BANGOR — With his tire store in Waterville suffering storm-related losses, Gene Lewis made the trek to Bangor on Monday and joined the ranks of Mainers applying for emergency relief loans.
Lewis’ Universal Tire is just one of an estimated 15,000 small businesses across Maine that found an unexpectedly harsh January ice storm pummeling their bottom line. Government entities and financial institutions have been lining up to offer loans, including the federal Small Business Administration which on Monday opened its second emergency relief center in the state. The first opened in Lewiston on Saturday and the second opened in Bangor.
“When you run into something like this, it’s pretty major,” Lewis said after completing a small business loan application at the SBA’s temporary Bangor office. “It doesn’t affect one segment of your business. It affects the whole flow of things.”
Lewis is hoping that a low-interest loan from the SBA will help tide over these rough times for his 10-person shop. Soon, he hopes, many of the farmers who buy his tires will be back on their feet and people who have been spending money on generators and wood stoves will return to the automobile market.
Officials from the SBA are promising that applications will be approved or denied in seven to 10 days and paid out in 30 days. Unlike businesspeople and homeowners who qualify under provisions dealing with property damage, Lewis is eligible for emergency relief because his business suffered an “economic injury” as a result of the storm.
Small businesses — those with less than 250 employees — are eligible for financing of up to $1.5 million to help repair property damage or economic injury while home loans go as high as $200,000. Interest rates for businesses are fixed at 4 percent. Homeowners get a rate of 3.81 percent.
All counties except Aroostook are eligible for property damage loans. The economic injury loans are extended to the entire state, including northern Maine.
“We can’t even begin to estimate the amount of money that will be loaned out,” noted Roy Perry, the regional director of the SBA who attended the opening of the emergency center in Bangor. “But with 690,000 people in the dark, you know there’s going to be a lot of damage.”
Perry said that the SBA plans to open a third office in Augusta and possibly a fourth in Machias. The two existing offices are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and will be open “until people stop coming.”
However, Perry cautioned that a March 16 deadline loomed. Even for those with some form of insurance, the SBA regional director encouraged businesses and homeowners with any property damage or economic injury to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be eligible for SBA relief loans.
Homeowners and businesspeople who later learn that their insurance policy does not cover all of their losses but fail to register with FEMA by March 16 cannot apply for the special SBA loans, he said.
FEMA can be reached at (800) 462-9029. More information on the SBA disaster loan program can be found by calling (800) 659-2955. The Bangor SBA emergency center is located at 10 Franklin St. in downtown Bangor. In Lewiston, the center is located at the Business Information Center at Bates Mill Complex, 35 Canal St.