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Store owner Debby Hans has run the Halls Rd. Subway shop for more than five years and enjoyed the company of Lyme and Old Lyme community members when they would stop for a bite to eat. Hans was hit hard, however, when restaurants in Connecticut were forced to stop indoor dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I remember watching the day that the sales first plummeted," Hans said. "I went through lunch-the busiest part of our day-and it was lower than what sales are in the dead of winter."
Many small businesses during this time have been hit hard due to the social distancing restrictions introduced in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. With owners wondering where to seek help, the Mentoring Corps for Community Development (MCCD) has been quick to step up, reach out and lend a hand for those who might be struggling to keep their businesses afloat.
The MCCD is not a widely-known group but it is certainly influential in the local area. What then is the MCCD and who are its members?
The organization's website explains that the group has been around for some eight years and successfully worked on over 100 projects for non-profits, for-profits, and schools. Consisting of 10 members, each member brings, "...years of experience from business, government and/or child raising careers."
The MCCD sums up its mission in the expressive words, "We will consider taking on almost any assignment within our skill set that will add sparkle to New London and Middlesex Counties." As a project unfolds, members volunteer for projects related to their strengths from previous careers or those that they're simply interested in doing.
Dennis Powers of Essex, a board member of MCCD, admits that everyone involved is strongly passionate about the camaraderie of the group's mission.
"We're not in it for money, we're trying to put something back into the community," said Powers. "It's very rewarding because we have the time and the interest we can bring."
Hans came in contact with MCCD when her Subway shop first took off in 2015, and noted that they would occasionally check up on her and give her pointers for her business along the way.
"Debby's different," said Powers. "We worked with her three years ago at least, she's a terrific client because she's very capable. If you give her an inch, she'll run with it like mad."
When Hans' sales first plummeted, she called Subway headquarters for advice but was only told to wait out the storm. Although Hans' store already had online ordering services, it just wasn't enough to suffice.
The interior of the Subway store has been remodeled under Debby Hans's management.
"When your sales plummet, you're scared to death. You either have to close temporarily or permanently," said Hans. "I felt isolated and alone. You stand in your store; you're surrounded by it. You feel like your store is the only one going through this."
The MCCD recognized Hans' struggle and quickly went to action with finding the financial support she needed but was surprised when Hans swiftly took action herself.
"She's very receptive, and listened to everything we had to say," said Gerry Guild of Lyme, also a board member of MCCD. "We tried to point out some various ways she could get some financial help because only being able to sell take-out service was a big change in her business."
Hans applied for a Paycheck Protection Loan (PPP) program through the Small Business Administration for her business as instructed by MCCD, which gave her tremendous latitude: Hans's loan allowed her to take 100 percent deductions for any expenses that she may incur for payroll, utilities or rent, which, in turn, allowed her both to keep her employees on the payroll and erase the worry about paying rent and utilities for the next month.
Hans emphasized she was extremely appreciative of the guidance that MCCD had given her and encouraged other businesses not only to understand that they aren't alone but also realize that there are people willing to help.
"They (MCCD) were awesome; like they were a big brother watching over me," Hans explained enthusiastically, adding, "It was great to know that there were people out there and they were going to help."
Powers and Guild know that not everyone has the previous relationship with MCCD that Hans had, but still highly encourage small business owners, who may be struggling for any reason, to know that help is out there.
"We can be helpful but we don't have a lot of Debby's standing in line for advice," said Powers. "We can help people who want to be helped … Debby went to the bank herself. But we can't help people who don't want to be helped, or don't want to do anything."
Powers and Guild left off with some sage advice, encouraging small business owners like Hans to, "keep on keeping on, stay positive and realize that change may not always be a bad thing."
"We suspect that a lot of people are shell-shocked right now and they don't know what to do," noted Guild.
"Be open minded. Don't be afraid to learn new approaches to operating in this new environment," Powers stressed, commenting wisely, "It's not how you're hit, but how you get up that matters."