Mayor Hogsett, Indy Chamber of Commerce address small business relief amid COVID-19 pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- With empty bars and restaurants and shuttered entertainment businesses as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine for Indianapolis’ economy, Mayor Joe Hogsett is predicting a local financial downturn in the nine-figure range for Marion County.

“The business losses alone will be in the hundreds of millions. Not the hundreds of thousands,” said Hogsett with Indy Chamber President & CEO Michael Huber at his side. “Philanthropies, foundations, financial institutions and local government agencies, now is our time. We must do everything we can as a city to help our unique and diverse small business ecosystem.”

Across the street from the City-County Building, 25 floors below the conference room where Hogsett offered his sobering economic prediction, John Mavrikis struggles to keep his Grecian Garden stall open in the now nearly deserted City Market.

“You don’t have people downtown, but I understand people wanting to be safe and following the directions of the government to stay in and I think there’s a lot of unknown answers out there and people don’t know what to do.”

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Mavrikis made a total of $57 on Tuesday. He said he would count himself lucky to make the same amount Wednesday, though he intends to stay open.

“I have two reasons. I have employees to pay and want to keep them on the payroll and, personally, I want people to know that I stayed open so two months from now they can say, ‘Hey, the people who were here downtown, they had somewhere to eat.’”

Last week when the Indiana Pacers, the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Regionals, a Nike volleyball tournament and a handful of conventions pulled out of their commitments to Indianapolis over the next month, the local economy suffered what Visit Indy predicted would be an economic ripple impact loss of more than $100 million.

During a sparsely attended press briefing due to social distancing concerns, Hogsett was asked if he expected a hollowing out of Indianapolis’ business community when the anticipated coronavirus recession someday eases.

“Well, I think that may very well be the reality,” said the mayor. “We don’t know that yet. And that is why today’s announcement is really kind of predicated on helping work with small business leaders to position them as best we can to keep their doors open, to keep their employees safe, to keep their employees employed and to minimize clearly what might very well be an incredibly difficult period of loss.”

“Rapid Response Hub” which includes a website geared to answer the questions of small business owners who find themselves strapped by the virus shutdown.

The Indy Chamber announced the launch of its Rapid Response Hub, which includes a website geared to answer the questions of small business owners struggling in the midst the coronavirus pandemic, and highlighted the city's coronavirus community resources page.

“Businesses are just asking questions like, ‘Can I stay open? Should I stay open? Where can my employees get assistance?’” said Huber. “One of the changes in the last 48 hours is we are making more and more resources available for business coaching, potential small business loans coaching and resourcing .”

Huber said the IU Kelley School of Business is making faculty and experts available to field questions in one-on-one conversation with small business owners at response.indychamber.com.

Mavrikis has been serving gyros and rice and meatballs at the City Market for 17 years, but he expects to see more empty stalls among his competitors after the crisis passes.

“That’s probably a certainty you will and not just in here but all around Indianapolis,” he said. “Small businesses, whether you’re a restaurant or anything else, can’t survive long periods of time if you’re talking about three, four, five, six months without some type of stimulus to help small business owners.

“I think they need stimulus help that you don’t pay back. I think adding debt to a small business, I don’t know if that’s the answer now. It certainly might help a little bit but right now to get us through a little bit maybe they could do something with the payroll taxes, maybe do something with rents, things like that, if they can do it would help.”

Hogsett said his administration is reviewing the city’s response to the economic crisis to determine if there are any fees or processes that could be waived to ease the burden on small business owners trying to survive.

Meanwhile, the mayor expects the drop in tax revenue over the next few months would make belt tightening in the next round of municipal budget talks that begin in August an almost certainty.

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