The $20,000 Bursch Travel received by way of a CARES Act grant will allow owner Fred Bursch to continue to pay rent and pay employees for a few months.

“Luckily our landlords and employees are helping us weather the storm,” said Bursch, adding that because of the coronavirus pandemic, business is down a whopping 90%. “And, luckily we qualified for the CARES grant in Douglas County.”

Bursch’s business is among many that have been impacted by COVID-19. In Douglas County, there were 188 total businesses that made grant requests.

Bursch Travel was one of 150 businesses and/or nonprofit that met the criteria and were able to receive the CARES Act funds. The county gave out more than $3.2 million in grants.

The money came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. Douglas County received more than $4.6 million in CARES Act funds to provide assistance to area businesses and nonprofits that were impacted by the shutdown due to COVID-19.

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With business down that much for Bursch, he said that his business won’t see any substantial returns until next year. He said he felt very thankful to have received the CARES Act grant in Douglas County.

“In some other counties, we were declared ineligible because we had multiple locations or because the owner didn’t live in that county,” he said. “This may result in additional cuts to my operations in those counties.”

He is hoping, however, that there will be additional stimulus programs after the election that will help.

Bursch said when the COVID-19 crisis hit, he had to keep employees working because they were helping travelers return from foreign destinations. In addition, they were processing refunds for hundreds of trips that were being canceled.

“The loss of our revenue from 2020 and the loss of all of our working capital is making it hard to keep the business alive,” said Bursch. “We were forced to close five offices and furlough half of our employees. The employees remaining are now only working two days per week until business picks up.”

Bursch said he is hoping his business stays afloat so that he and his employees can celebrate the businesses 65th anniversary. Bursch Travel was founded in Alexandria in 1956. It has offices in five states: Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Bursch said that there is perhaps a light at the end of the very dark tunnel.

“Last week’s advance bookings were the highest in seven months,” he said. “We will wait and see if this is an aberration or a positive trend.”

Expensive disasters

The Alexandria Senior Center, which relies entirely on donations, rentals and events, not only had to deal with closing down for almost seven months because of the pandemic, which meant no income, it was hit with an expensive disaster in June.

Nancy Haggenmiller, Senior Center executive director, said a commercial water heater needed replacement as it was the water heater for its commercial kitchen. And during the shut down, the kitchen was still being used to prepare Meals on Wheels.

As if that wasn’t enough, the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization’s water main, the connection under the street, failed.

“Replacement/repair of both the water heater and water main, and a whole new waterline through our building was a huge price tag to swallow,” she said. “We were watching our budget depleting while receiving no income as our doors remained closed to protect the most vulnerable age group from COVID-19.”

Thankfully, the Alexandria Senior Center was one of the 31 nonprofit agencies to receive a CARES Act grant. It received a $30,000 grant.

This is money that Haggenmiller stressed will now help to keep the Senior Center open so that there is an opportunity for seniors to socially distance and socialize, which will hopefully help defeat the isolation people are feeling during the pandemic.

The Alexandria Senior Center has one paid staff person and numerous volunteers including its board of directors.

Mary Nitti, who is the treasurer on that board, said that the CARES Act grant is a gift that will help the center move forward with less worry about how it would stay open.

“With so few events that provide funds along with the fact that we have lost some of our rental income, this grant will help see us through some of the days and weeks ahead,” said Nitti.

The center had to cancel eight of its nine annual fundraisers, which helps fund its yearly budget.

Another board member, Carol Erickson, said, “The CARES Act fund gave the board members great encouragement to continue our course of action.”

The board members, along with Haggenmiller, are all very thankful for the funds they received.

Pressing on

Heading into 2020, the owners of Ella’s Salon in Alexandria knew the year was going to be exciting. A brand new building was on the horizon.

“We’ve been saving money for a few years and planning for months on what a new location would look like and what it would mean for our employees and our customers,” said Paul Regnier, office manager for Ella’s Salon. “Using the prior few years of financial’s for Ella’s, we had a very good estimate of what 2020 would like, and based our decisions about the new location on those estimates.”

Then March came and the salon, like many other businesses, was forced to shut down. Being closed for almost three months took a huge toll on their savings, said Regnier. Savings that were earmarked for the new location.

What was supposed to be a very exciting time turned out instead to be super stressful. Not only the owners and staff, but also the customers of Ella’s had to adapt and learn how to manage a new way of business during the pandemic.

In June, a decision to either press on with the new location or cancel the project had to be made. A decision, said Regnier, that was very hard to make considering they had no idea what the upcoming months would look like from a business standpoint.

“COVID-19 definitely had an impact on our business from a cash flow standpoint,” he said. “We now have expenses we’ve never had in the past and we are not able to service as many customers as we could prior.”

But then Ella’s applied for and was granted a $50,000 CARES Act grant.

“This Douglas County grant was a huge help to us,” said Regnier. “It allowed us to get caught up on some past due bills, keep our new building project on time and relieve some of the financial stress that comes with running a business during COVID. We are very grateful to have received this.”

Overview

Nicole Fernholz, director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, said the average request was $34,463. The requests were made to the AAEDC, which was in charge of administering the funds. A committee was formed and those members reviewed the applications and then made recommendations to thenDouglas County Board of Commissioners, who then gave their approval.

There were certain requirements each business and/or nonprofit had to meet, she said, including the following:

  • The business had a reduction of gross profit from March to May 2020 versus the same time period of 2019.

  • The business had to supply a profit/loss sheet from that time period.

  • The business had to supply a Secretary of State filing.

  • The business had proof of 2019 taxes paid, or an extension request with 2018 taxes paid.

“Unfortunately, not all businesses that applied could meet all the requirements and their requests were not approved,” said Fernholz, who broke down the requests into categories.

The categories and how many requests were made in each are as follows:

  • Child care: 4

  • Health/Fitness: 14

  • Manufacturing: 5

  • Nonprofit: 31

  • Restaurant: 37

  • Retail: 27

  • Salon: 16

  • Service: 26

  • Senior living: 2

  • Tourism: 26

The for-profit requests total almost $5.2 million, while the nonprofit requests were a little more than $991,000. Fernholz also noted that 60% of the businesses requesting grants have five employees or fewer.

The percentage of grants in the Alexandria area were about 54%, while those in the greater Douglas County area were at 46%.

Grant requests came from businesses/nonprofits in Alexandria, Carlos, Ida Township, Garfield, Evansville, Farwell, Hudson Township, Brandon, Kensington, LaGrand Township, Lake Mary Township, Osakis, Nelson, Miltona, Holmes City, Alexandria Township and Carlos Township.