A Dominican beauty salon owner was hit hard by the pandemic as she struggled without government loans. But despite the hardships, this fearless luchadora refuses to lose hope.
Small, family-owned businesses all over the country have been forced to reduce their workforce or shut down permanently due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, a January survey found that nearly 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs expected to permanently close their businesses over the next three months, a rate higher than for white business owners.
And the Sunshine State has not been spared. A 2020 WalletHub survey listing the states with the most affected businesses ranked Florida 16th in the country.
When Everything Started to Go Wrong
But as alarming as the numbers are, statistics alone cannot convey the devastation felt by those who have seen years of hard work, many times their life’s dream, disappear before their eyes.
Jacqueline Swift from North Miami is one of the thousands who have been affected by the COVID-19 economy. A year ago, she moved her unisex beauty salon to a rental suite closer to her home. This coincided with the beginning of the pandemic.
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“And that’s when everything started to go wrong,” the youthful Dominican mother and grandmother told The Americano. “Clients started to disappear; everyone was afraid.”
When the suite she was renting closed for ten weeks due to the pandemic, the business owner of 22 years started feeling the pinch.
“Ten weeks later things remained the same, clients were not coming in. Things started to get very difficult,” she said.
The urgent need to generate an income rose along with her growing frustration and anxiety.
“I was very frustrated, muy mal, because I depend on me. I am not producing and the bills won’t stop coming in,” she recalled.
Swift’s accountant applied for a SBA small business loan on her behalf, but when months went by without results, she applied for a personal loan. Then things got complicated.
“[They told me] I had applied twice, so I was declined and received nothing,” she said.
Growing more anxious, Swift started cold calling her clients, but they would tell her it was still too dangerous to go back into the salon. Attempts at collecting unemployment benefits also proved fruitless in the long run.
“I couldn’t believe that I could not get help from anywhere.”
When the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) became available, Swift applied and was approved.
“But three months went by and I never heard from them again,” she said. “I came to this country when I was 17 years old and have never applied for any help. I’ve worked long and hard, and when something like this comes along, I was not helped,” she said.
Based on her experience, Swift believes that the problem lies in a system that is random and disorganized. However, research has found that the first round of the stimulus package was inequitably distributed, with the lion’s share of the funds given to businesses in neighborhoods with low shares of Black and Hispanic residents.
It Takes a Toll
“I am not a person prone to depression, because that’s a luxury I can’t afford. I had to bring up two boys by myself. I’ve always been a hard worker, muy echada pa’lante and very positive,” she said.
But the dire situation started taking its toll. She found herself uncharacteristically sitting in front of the TV, not wanting to talk to people, not even picking up her phone. She had to make an effort to rouse herself and come back in full force.
“I stood in front of the mirror and told myself, ‘This can’t go on!’ That’s when I started calling [my creditors] and telling them ‘I can’t pay.’ That brought some relief, because honestly I was desperate.”
Her sons started helping her out too, but the tireless luchadora felt the need to become self-sufficient again.
“I know everybody’s got their own obligations. I am not somebody’s burden,” she said.
Not one to sit idly by and complain, Swift is now renting a chair at a beauty salon, in the hopes of bouncing back to her old productive self.
“After 20 years of sacrifice, working in the same place, creating a clientele, I ended up renting out a chair in a salon,” she said. But she refuses to feel sorry for herself.
“I’m not one to inspire pity. I am a strong woman, a hard worker. I want to move forward, so I keep calling my clients, I keep fighting. I know things will get better.”