Champaign-Urbana businesses varied in reasons to take — or not to take — federal loans

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A $3 million forgivable federal loan helped one local agribusiness offset rising costs, while a $100,000 loan allowed another business to simply survive. 

In total, more than 4,000 businesses received about $337.8 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans throughout Champaign and Urbana. The loans were meant to help businesses keep their workers paid and employed during the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses could also apply to have their loans forgiven. 

Seven businesses throughout Champaign-Urbana received a loan greater than or equal to $3 million. Premier Cooperative, a Champaign-based company that provides agricultural commodities and energy products, received about $3.1 million.

“We’re in the agriculture business, so we did not see much slow down to our daily business,” Chief Financial Officer Shawn Kinkade said. “We felt as though that there was an increase in employment costs that we were facing, and we wanted to offset some of those costs.”

For several businesses, the loan was the only reason it survived, such as MedServ Equipment Corp, owned by Dave Beshoar. It received a loan for just under $100,000. 

Located at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, MedServ is a business that offers home medical equipment and supplies designed to help senior citizens and those who have certain disabilities, such as motorized scooters. Beshoar said COVID-19 impacted the business severely, and said the PPP loan saved the business from shutting down. 

“Our revenue in 2020 was down 40%, so that year was a big financial loss for us. We lost a few employees because of this,” Beshoar said. “But if it hadn’t been for the PPP loans, I wouldn’t be here right now.” 

MedServ has two locations, one in Urbana and one in Palatine, which Beshoar said was facing the same issue. Two loans, one in each round, were applied for using the Palatine address, data shows. 

MedServ wasn’t alone. Most other businesses inside Lincoln Square Mall, deemed non-essential, had no option but to stay closed during the beginning stages of the lockdown. The same was true for businesses at the Market Place mall in Champaign.

Beshoar said he is hopeful that once the pandemic ends and things go back to normal, MedServ will prosper again.

“The retail side of the business, stuff like the lift chairs, the scooters, the reclining chairs, the stuff like that are more related to cash rather than insurance billing,” Beshoar said. “That’s the kind of stuff that was affected by COVID, and that was the type of stuff that if we do get into a deep recession, I’m sure it will be impacted too. But under normal economic conditions, non-pandemic conditions we should be fine.” 

A few blocks away from the Lincoln Square Mall, Bill Thornhill began facing new challenges as the owner of Priceless Books on Main Street downtown. 

“Since I was still having money come in via the internet, I couldn’t see that I could honestly apply for those particular loans,” Thornhill said, who is also the store’s only employee.

Thornhill’s bookstore was closed for an extended period of time, he said. 

“Fortunately for me, I sell stuff online, so I was able to make some money,” Thornhill said. “However, I was not able to have any physical customers at the store.”

Although most COVID related restrictions have been lifted in Illinois, Priceless Books has still had trouble obtaining consistent business. Thornhill said he relies on the customers from the surrounding restaurants to provide him with business.

However, most restaurants in the downtown Urbana area have not been open on a full-time basis. 

For example, Crane Alley, a restaurant and bar across the street, was closed on both Mondays and Tuesdays, and didn’t open until 4 p.m. on other days until it eventually announced it would be closing on June 18.

“It’s still stagnant because the restaurants around here are not open for multiple days of every week,” Thornhill said. “I always get a lot of business from people going to the downtown restaurants.”

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