While Stark Brewing Co. is still open for delivery and pick-up service, and is providing free meals to some elderly people in need, business has slumped in recent weeks and the future is uncertain as utility bills continue to pile up.
Stark owner Peter Telge said during a recent phone interview that they received a rush of people who turned out to support local businesses like his during the first two weeks restaurants and breweries were forced to close their dine-in services.
Then, he said, business dropped.
“It seems like the novelty of supporting local restaurants has worn out,” Telge said.
Early on, Stark shifted to offer more delivery options through DoorDash and GrubHub, as well as free in-house delivery within five miles for orders of $30 or more. They are offering new retail products like a variety six-pack of beer, a new coconut rum, and a new menu of large family dinners that feed four for under $25, Telge said.
But what used to be a business that made about $25,000 a week in overall sales has dropped to $6,000 or $7,000 a week.
“To make a long story short, it’s been very difficult,” Telge said.
Over half his business came from event space bookings, like weekly poetry nights, live music, bridal and baby showers and more. The year started out looking like it would be one of his busiest years ever. Now, everything is cancelled through May and June, and some have even cancelled their October bookings.
Meanwhile, Telge has kept as many as 13 full-time and part-time employees on the payroll to keep the operation going, but he has stopped taking a paycheck himself and utility bills are going unpaid.
“I’m not paying my bills right now. I’m covering payroll, I’m covering taxes, I’m paying for food right now,” Telge said.
Gas and electricity are required to stay running even without payment per the governor’s executive orders, Telge’s bank has agreed to give forbearance on the mortgage for April and May, though about $5,600 per month of interest will still accrue, Comcast hasn’t offered him any options for a temporary cable shut-down, and ADT Security Services has offered to temporarily reduce his monthly rate from $180 to $20 for six months starting in May, Telge said.
He estimates that by June he will owe about $10,000 for electricity, $8,000 for gas.
At the start of the pandemic shut-down, Telge said he had paid off all his bills, so he’s in a better position than some other small businesses who were already behind on paying some of their expenses.
But he’s worried about what will happen in the post-shutdown period. Will companies be expected to pay everything they owe right away? Is it realistic to expect customers will return in force, or will they trickle back gradually? If sales aren’t strong, will he and others have to spend through their savings?
And while he’s still waiting to hear back about an Economic Injury Disaster Loan he applied for, he was already denied a Paycheck Protection Program because the funds ran out. Telge said he applied on the first day.
While the Small Business Administration assured those payroll loans would be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, many lenders are coming under fire for allegedly favoring large companies requesting larger loans, particularly restaurant franchise chains.
Despite these concerns, Telge said he is still committed to giving back to the community. They are already regularly delivering free meals to a handful of elderly women and said if anyone else is having a hard time finding a meal they should reach out to him by calling the business.
Like many local distillers in the state, he has taken it upon himself to produce some hand sanitizer. He said he broke even on the first batch, which he sold for $75 per gallon, because he used expensive bourbon grain to make the alcohol.
He sold the sanitizer to the Nashua Post Office, Nashua Police, ProCon in Hooksett, Santander Bank and some area nursing homes, he said.
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