A local small business owner shares his reality and concerns after New York’s lockdown prompted the closure of non-essential businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Spencer owns My Apartment Bar and Grill in Rochester. His business has been closed for a month now.

“We have a crowd here from 21 to 75,” said Spencer. “Wonderful people, great crowd, very family-like atmosphere. Things have been going fantastic.”

Since New York state’s on pause, Spencer says he uses the time to repair and enhance his property.

“We’ve redone the men’s room,” said Spencer. “We’ve done renovations to the kitchen. We are going to be adding a fire pit outside …”

Spencer says he could also use some financial help. He had to pay his workers out of pocket, before they received unemployment benefits. He also says it has not been easy, as funds are running out.

“I’ve taken advantage of every program that I read about,” said Spencer. “The City of Rochester, Economic Development is the only one that has worked with us. Everybody else, good luck with getting a human on the phone.”

Spencer says he applied for Monroe County’s $10,000, 0 interest small business assistance loan program. After weeks of applying, he does not know if his application was approved or denied.

Monroe County's website posting on this program says it aims to have applications processed, loans approved and paid out within seven business days.

"How about a phone call,” says Spencer, “how about a call back? I’ve called seven times and left messages. I’ve heard nothing. I keep getting emails that say, ‘Don’t worry, you are in the process and someone will get back to you’ but they don’t.”

Spencer says what is more discouraging is that he recently learned a fellow business owner deemed essential was approved for the county’s small business loan in a week’s time. 

“How come somebody in business is getting a $10,000, 0 percent loan and we are legitimately struggling here to do what we have to do for our employees and we get nothing? I can’t even get a call back,” said Spencer.

In these unprecedented times, insurance and taxes are still due. Spencer says he will remain hopeful.

"We are looking forward to opening,” said Spencer. “We are going to be ready when it does.”