He said local businesses that were marginal before 9/11 -- and less likely to make it after 9/11 -- wouldn't necessarily qualify for federal lending.
As a result, the approval rate in Manhattan -- 58 percent—was identical to that in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains states. In other words, in the place where 2,801 innocents died, businesses seeking disaster relief were successful in the same percentages as were companies in Omaha, Wichita and Santa Fe.
The other boroughs fared even worse: In the Bronx, the approval rate stands at 34 percent, the lowest in the city. Queens hit 42 percent, and Staten Island, 57 percent. In Brooklyn, businesses were approved 39 percent of the time — about the same as firms in California, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.
"Why should a company in Honolulu get the same odds I got?" asked Marc Jacobs, co-owner of a family-run car service in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He said he was denied a loan because of a credit dispute that was resolved six years ago.
How did companies thousands of miles from the city qualify for 9/11-related loans?
They claimed, in the language of the SBA, to have "suffered substantial economic injury as a direct result" of the "destruction of the World Trade Center or damage to the Pentagon" — and were able to prove it to the lender's satisfaction.
Among those who met that standard:
Desert Fox Tours, a Las Vegas off-road guide service. It scored a $50,000 loan capped at 4 percent. Owner Johnson said his Japanese market dried up and that he needed the funds to reposition his company to cater to U.S. tourists and develop ghost town and gold mine tours.
Renown Charters & Tours, an Anchorage operator of whale, wildlife and glacier cruises. It snared a $294,000 loan to meet fixed expenses. Owner Randy Becker said that with flights grounded, few travelers were in the mood to spot orcas, otters, porpoises, seals, sea lions and bald eagles in Kenai Fjords National Park. He used the cash to cover payroll, fuel and moorage costs for his boats.
Tan Your Buns, a Fargo, N.D., tanning salon. It borrowed $16,800 for working capital and loan repayment. Co-owner Caleb Hoag said the brutal Fargo winters had been prime tanning season for his customers, many of whom gave up this luxury after 9/11, costing him 37 percent of his normal revenue. The money helped him limp through the summer, when salon sessions are traditionally less frequent.
Dive Experience, a St. Croix, Virgin Islands, scuba diver training service. It got a $42,100 loan. Owner Michelle Pugh said the coral reef — and marine life such as the moray eel and black-tipped shark — lost their exotic appeal after the terror strikes. Cancellations were widespread, and the loan helped her company stay afloat.
New Stone Age, a Saipan-based import-and-trading concern in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands -- 8,084 miles from Ground Zero. It pocketed $35,700. Owner Jim Davies said that after 9/11, he needed cash because goods shipped from Indonesia and the Philippines never reached the Marianas.
Redi-Spuds, a Las Vegas purveyor of fresh hash brown breakfast potatoes. It got $50,000. Owner Pete Vescio said "decadence was out of fashion" in September, and the market for hash browns and onion rings quickly fizzled. The loan let him maintain staff, supplies —and potato inventories — until demand for spuds grew back.
Out-of-town recipients tend to gush about their dealings with the SBA. Said Johnson, "They were amazingly helpful, efficient and reasonable."
Pugh said, "They're wonderful people to work with, the process was fabulously painless, and it restored my faith in government."
Vescio agreed. "It was simpler and easier than dealing with our banks," he said.
And in the argot of Fargo, Hoag summed up his experience as "cool beans."
Try telling that to Joshua Rockoff, president of Strike Eagle Graphics, an Internet consulting firm that was housed on the 29th floor of 2 World Trade Center and needed money to buy computers and reconstruct intellectual property.
"They lost my paperwork seven times," he said. "They never apologized; they kept blaming the post office. It was one of the worst experiences of my life."
Rockoff applied for a $150,000 loan in late October and needed a fast turnaround. But, he said, the SBA kept him waiting until June — as revenues nose-dived 53 percent — and then arbitrarily slashed his loan to $57,000. By that time, he no longer was interested.
John Calder, owner of Steamer's Landing restaurant on the Battery Park City esplanade, got a quicker response. His Sept. 24 application for a $180,000 loan was approved Oct. 14 -- but there were strings attached.
He had to put up his co-op for collateral. He had to hand over any future grant monies to pay down principal. Loans from other sources also would go to the SBA, as would proceeds from damage and business interruption insurance.
"The loan would have been completely meaningless," Calder said. "So I turned down the SBA."
Still, for statistical purposes, the SBA is able to list the transaction as an approved loan.
The SBA's Leggiero said collateral requirements, usually a home, minimize taxpayer losses and the risk of default. He added that grant and insurance funds are often tapped to repay the loan because the federal law mandates "no duplication of benefits" for disaster loans.
Immigrant-owned businesses whose principals lack fluency in English often describe a long, nightmarish process before they get loans.
Waitim Ho, one of seven co-owners of the Win Hop restaurant at 51 Bayard St. in Chinatown, said he made at least five trips to the SBA's Worth St. office, spent more than 16 hours, talked to four loan officers through a Cantonese translator, produced hundreds of documents—and still was turned down five times.
The two big sticking points: 1) The SBA kept asking Ho to identify Win Hop's majority shareholder, even though all seven co-owners hold equal 14.3 percent stakes. 2) The SBA kept asking Ho to produce all six of his partners—even though that would mean closing the restaurant at a time sales already were down 50 percent.
Ho said through an interpreter, "I felt desperate and hopeless, and I cried with dry tears."
The ordeal ended in April, when Jack Chung, a business adviser at LaGuardia Community College's Small Business Development Center, read about Ho's plight in a Chinese newspaper and intervened with the SBA to help him secure a 13-year, $70,500 loan. Ho was one of the lucky ones.
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