Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
FAIRFIELD, Maine — From a facility off Porter Hill Road in Farmington, Don McIntire printed children’s books, government contracts, flyers for local businesses and a smattering of other paper products for more than three decades.
Now the 72-year-old finds himself wondering how he is going to dispose of a 55-gallon tank of used ink and pay off a lease on a digital press after the printing business he owned since 1987 went out of business in mid-April.
McIntire, who lives in Fairfield and is the longtime owner of Heritage Printing, described the coronavirus outbreak as the “nail in the coffin” for his business, which had managed to survive a rapidly changing industry but not the sudden loss in revenue without access to a lifeline.
“Now I wake up every morning worried,” he said, “and I don’t worry much.”
By the time the coronavirus crisis passes, he is likely to be one of many who shut their doors. A national survey by Main Street America found 30 percent of small business owners thought they were at risk of closing within two months if business disruptions continued at the current rate.
In Maine, front-facing businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors have faced uncertainty after they were ordered to close in early April. Other businesses like Heritage Printing were hit by cratering demand for services while trying to access hastily assembled aid programs that have been lifelines for many businesses, but can be hard to access or contradictory.
Printing businesses were deemed essential when Gov. Janet Mills, like governors across the country, ordered most businesses to shut down in March. McIntire, whose clients have included hospitals, initially stayed open. With many clients closed, however, he did not have much business.
While the printing industry has been shaken by the growth of the internet and technological improvements allowing more companies to print in-house, his business still saw about $200,000 in annual revenue over the past few years, McIntire said. The slowdown, coupled with the loss of a state government contract he had anticipated a few weeks earlier, quickly turned his finances upside down.
Initially, McIntire worked with the Maine Department of Labor to put his two employees on WorkShare, a state program allowing workers to collect some unemployment benefits when their hours have been reduced but they are still working part time. He also began looking into emergency relief options, such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which aims to provide small business owners with forgivable loans.
Nearly 26,000 Maine businesses have already qualified for a total of $2.55 billion in loans through the program, according to the office of Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who championed the program. But for McIntire, who had avoided layoffs with help from the WorkShare program, the details presented a conundrum.
A condition for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program is that businesses bring back employees to full-time equivalency within eight weeks. The $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill that created the program also expanded unemployment insurance, including funds for an additional $600 per week to any worker receiving state benefits.
While McIntire was contemplating applying for a federal loan in mid-April, his employees were notified that they were eligible for the additional cash through unemployment, which would allow them to make far more than they had while working for him. Maine is the state where the average worker on unemployment is making the most relative to their previous salary, The New York Times found.
If McIntire rehired his employees, both of whom had been with the business for more than a decade, they would come off of the workshare program and lose their unemployment benefits.
McIntire said he also did not want to risk having to pay back a loan, particularly at his age. “If the printing company was running, we could pay it back easily,” he said. But he was not sure when that might be.
[image id=”2971525″ size=”full” pos=”center” /]
So nearly overnight, he found himself shutting down the business he had owned and operated since 1987.
Paul Mills, a Farmington lawyer and the governor’s brother, was among McIntire’s longtime customers, using his printing services as recently as a few weeks ago. He also knew McIntire from work with the Rotary Club of Farmington. He called him an “inspiring civic leader” and said it was sad to see the business close.
Shutting down his business nearly overnight leaves McIntire in a strange limbo. He still has a $12,000 lease on a digital press and ink that needs to be disposed of. Some equipment can be sold, he thinks, but much of it might be too old to find a buyer. There are many federal and state aid programs for businesses that are struggling, but fewer options for those out of business.
McIntire understands why Maine had to suddenly shut down due to the coronavirus. His wife has a suppressed immune system, and he questions whether people will return to normal life as Maine slowly lifts restrictions on businesses when many are still concerned about the virus. As of Sunday, 57 people had died from the virus here while the state recorded 422 active cases.
But he wishes there was more support available to business owners like him. He was hopeful he would be able to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program launched Friday providing unemployment to people not traditionally eligible for unemployment, including sole proprietors.
He has been frustrated by suggestions that unemployed individuals pursue vocational training. He and his wife — his high school sweetheart from Lawrence High in Fairfield — are both 72.
“Everyone says, ‘I’m going to support small business,’” McIntire said. “Well, they didn’t support this small business.”
Watch: State labor commissioner speaks to unemployed Mainers