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COVID Spawns Local SMB Loans, Mask Shortages And More Suburban Starbucks

With federal COVID-19 stimulus programs dried up for the moment and talks to renew them stalled, local communities are looking to fill the void by providing loans to SMBs that have been slammed by the coronavirus.

For instance, Muskegon County, Michigan is offering so-called “recovery loans” of up to $20,000 to local businesses with fewer than 25 employees. The loans, which carry a 4 percent interest rate, no origination fee and no payments for 90 days, are being offered through the Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.

The local response comes at a time when negotiations for another round of federal aid programs have dragged on for months, leaving countless individuals and SMBs on edge and starved for cash. It also coincides with a new wave of the pandemic that has pushed hospitalizations and daily case counts in the U.S. and Europe to levels not seen since April.

The virus’ resurgence is once again putting a strain on the supply of masks and other personal protective equipment used by frontline healthcare workers to treat patients, according to The Wall Street Journal. The paper said some hospitals have begun recycling masks, while others are trying to find new suppliers to re-stock inventories that had been built up over the past few months, but have now slipped to as low as a two-week supply.

3M CEO Mike Roman told the WSJ that professional-grade N95 masks “are still in high demand – we have more demand than we can supply.”

Consumers Are Worried 

The pandemic’s lingering effects also continue to have dramatic effects on consumers’ habits.

According to PYMNTS’ recent How We Shop survey, 59 percent of U.S. consumers would need to know that a COVID-19 vaccine was readily available before feeling comfortable returning to their pre-pandemic routines.

That’s impacting such behaviors as how consumers shop and eat. For example, 49 percent of consumers are shopping more online and less in stores. Similarly, 19 percent are dining out less and ordering takeout online more.

And while the numbers have eased some since May, a much higher share of consumers are buying retail items, takeout food and groceries online more than before the pandemic began:

For instance, the digital shift has dramatically changed the morning coffee routine for millions of people who now work from home instead of commuting to offices.

“Broadly speaking, we’ve seen U.S. transactions migrate from dense metro centers to the suburbs, from cafes to drive-thrus, from early mornings to mid-mornings,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said during the company’s recent earnings call.

In June, the high-end coffee chain announced a plan to reposition its mix of outlets, a move that will see it close 800 existing stores in North America, but open 850 new ones.

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