CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER
With Congress on its spring-break recess, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger swung through Culpeper on Thursday to meet with town police and visit a small business helped by the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts.
After a morning spent at the Culpeper Police Department, the 7th Congressional District lawmaker dropped by Green Roost, a well-established East Davis Street shop in downtown’s historic district.
There, in the afternoon, Spanberger visited with owner Kelsey Settle and her staff to hear how they weathered the worst of 2020’s economic freefall.
Settle opened her 141 E. Davis St. store 13 years ago, but almost didn’t make it through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uncle Sam’s Paycheck Protection Program and the American Rescue Plan got Green Roost through that crisis, Settle told the congresswoman, who voted for both pieces of legislation.
Of the PPP and Small Business Administration loans that the shop received, Settle said, “Those are the reason my business is still here today. To get through the pandemic and eight weeks of shutdown, that money made the difference.”
“There were no people in this store for eight weeks. It’s crazy to think we could even survive that,” she said in an interview. “But I was able to keep my staff. And the SBA loan filled my store back up with inventory.”
Because of PPP, “I was still able to pay my employees. … I haven’t lost anyone because of the pandemic,” Settle told Spanberger. “And even though we were shut down for eight weeks, my staff still got a paycheck which, you know, made me feel better and it kept them around.
“It’s great to keep your staff and have longevity …,” she said. “It keeps that continuity for the customers, and keeps them coming back. They know they’ll see the same faces.”
During the pandemic’s toughest times, Settle helped other downtown business owners, who were less comfortable with online software, apply for PPP loans.
Settle said Spanberger’s support of the business-emergency programs made the critical difference for Green Roost.
“Those loans kept us afloat,” she told the Star-Exponent.
Green Roost entered the pandemic with six employees, all of whom were able to keep their jobs. It now employs eight people.
The national health emergency shut down the store in the second quarter of 2020, going into the third quarter, creating a big cash-flow problem, Settle said.
“Generally, that income is how I buy inventory for the fourth quarter, which is our busiest time of the year,” she said.
“That’s where the SBA loan really made the difference,” Settle said. “It helped me beef up my bank account to we could fill the store and finish the year much more successfully than had I not had new inventory to sell. If the shelves weren’t full, think of the lost sales.”
2020 was probably the shop’s worst year ever, she said.
“People were afraid to come out, afraid to shop in stores,” Settle recalled. “But with those loans, I kept my staff and I kept my business. Without them, I wouldn’t have.”
“In 2021, supply chain and shipping issues began to become a problem, and this year we’re still experiencing that,” she said.
“Things are still difficult for people,” Spanberger acknowledged in an interview. “Prices at the pump are still not what we want them to be. There are still supply-chain disruptions. …
“But we’re looking toward the future,” the Democratic legislator said. “It’s great to see a business like this where, while we’ve been here, a variety of customers have walked in … and life is normal. Not to say back to normal, but good. Even though we’re not fully out of the pandemic, … some of those big, scary, what’s-around-the-bend moments are gone.”
Spanberger recalled how in 2020, when businesses and schools were closed, many people lost their income.
Her staff spent many months talking with Central Virginia business owners about problems they were having with the Small Business Administration or getting PPP loans, and trying to help them, she said.
When CARES Act loans came through, “business owners could feel comfortable taking a risk to believe that tomorrow’s going to be better and restock inventory that’s going to bring customers back, even if it’s slowly,” Spanberger said.
Now you hear of business successes during the pandemic’s hardships, such as how Settle she started an online store enabling people to purchase Green Roost goods more conveniently and without making a special trip to the store.
“Hearing that deep breath in the rearview mirror is interesting,” Spanberger said. “Across Virginia, billions of dollars went to small businesses. … Throughout the 10 counties I represent in the 7th District, businesses across the spectrum got small loans and big loans. … It was what they needed.”
The two-term lawmaker said she met a business owner the other day whose enterprise not only survived the pandemic, but is now planning for the future and aims to buy a bigger space.
“That’s what we envisioned,” she said.