New businesses largely left out of pandemic aid programs

Posted at 1:35 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 14:35:20-05

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Congress passed two pandemic relief packages in 2020 in an effort to keep small businesses afloat, but newly-opened shops say they have been left out of the legislation.

Kimo's Hawaiian Bar and Grill is one of many businesses falling into the "newly-opened" category. The restaurant opened its downtown Clarksville location last year.

"We wanted to bring aloha and Southern hospitality together," co-owner Dar Place said. The army veteran came up with the concept after spending a decade stationed on the islands.

"We love Hawaii but we also love Tennessee, so we wanted to bring the food and the 'aloha' and bring something different to Clarksville," Place said.

He started with a food truck in 2015 and upgraded to a shop near Fort Campbell the next year. In 2019, he began preparing to expand and add a location in Downtown Clarksville. The Franklin Street location was scheduled to open in early March, but the pandemic paused Place's plans.

"We went from opening in three days, to three months went by and we're not able to open up until July," Place explained.

He said the delay, along with restaurant restrictions and a slow economy, has left him in a hole.

"We're behind in rent, we're behind in wages, we're behind in everything and just trying to stay open and it's tough," he said. Place had to close his Fort Campbell location to focus on the downtown shop.

Making matters worse, the restaurant has been left out of both federal pandemic relief bills.

"This government help they're talking about, where is it? Because it hasn't gotten here," he said.

Because of the timing of the expansion and restructuring of his company, federal officials consider Kimo's Hawaiian Bar and Grill a "new business." To qualify for federal aid, shops had to be operating before Feb. 15, 2020, meaning businesses that have opened up in the last year have largely been on their own.

"We submitted for every little SBA loan program, and hear 'oh sorry you're a new owner so it doesn't apply,'" Place said. "What do we qualify for? Going bankrupt? New businesses bring jobs and help open the economy but it's like now, not only do they not want us to be open but they want us to fail."

So now, as lawmakers prepare to debate another round of relief, Place hopes businesses like his will finally be included.

"I don't want government help. But right now we need it."