REGIONAL — Grand Prairie Events is in its fourth year of business in Luverne, and while it has always been a popular locale for wedding receptions, special events and meetings, business has been slow going since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Owner Mike Jarchow said he’s normally booked through the summer with weddings. When Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced businesses like his must temporarily close to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, however, the weddings were either postponed to 2021 or moved across the state line to South Dakota, where restrictions were never implemented.

“This is our third wedding since March,” said Jarchow of a booking he has for this weekend. “They’re going gangbusters over there (in South Dakota), and we have our hands cuffed and tied.”

Luverne is just 12 miles from the state line, 20 minutes from Brandon and a half-hour from Sioux Falls. It’s too convenient for couples who want to keep their original wedding date, and too easy for Jarchow to lose business.

While the governor’s executive orders now allow for gatherings of up to 250 people, some wedding receptions still can’t take place at Grand Prairie Events.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“We had a big wedding booked with over 400 people and they ended up going to South Dakota,” Jarchow said.

Meanwhile, his 600-capacity building stands empty far too many days.

“Our survival is still in question,” he said. “We rely on those weddings in the summer.”

Emergency loans keeping doors open

Within two weeks of his executive order requiring bars, restaurants and event centers to temporarily close to slow the spread of COVID-19, Walz announced another executive order — a Small Business Emergency Loan program to provide loans of $2,500 to $35,000 to small businesses at 0% interest. The loans are 50% forgivable, and were administered through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Jarchow was one of 15 businesses in the six counties of far southwest Minnesota to secure a $35,000 loan, and one of five from within the city of Luverne. Other $35,000 grant recipients there included Luverne Brew Partners LLC, Luverne Pizza Ranch, Relyks Inc. and Jalas Enterprises Inc. Of the six counties, Rock County businesses garnered the highest amount in loans at $200,000.

Second was Murray County, where nine applicants received emergency business loans totaling $161,800. Six Nobles County businesses shared $165,000 in loans, and five Jackson County businesses received a combined $139,850. Cottonwood and Pipestone counties each had four businesses apply for a combined $73,700 and $65,500, respectively.

Statewide, 1,020 businesses received loans totalling more than $27.2 million.

Jarchow said the loan helped carry his business through the first three months of the pandemic, when there was no income whatsoever.

The problem, though, is that the money isn’t free. Half of it will need to be repaid

“All these things the government was trying to do to help us wasn’t really helping us by loaning us more money,” he said. “Granted, we appreciated it was there.”

Kay Williams Prunty, owner of The Dance Academy in Worthington, was grateful for the loan program after her business was temporarily shuttered in March. Hers was one of at least two dance studios in the area to secure an emergency loan from DEED. Without it, she didn’t know how she would pay her bills.

“COVID really struck us at a hard time,” she said.

Just as her sole source of revenue was lost, Prunty was in the midst of remodeling and moving the studio from downtown to Kragness Avenue.

Amy Woitalewicz of the Southwest Initiative Foundation helped Prunty file for the emergency loan — money Prunty said helped her 25-year business pull through. She used the funds to pay some of her bills and a portion of the dance floor she’d already had installed in the new location.

“Being the only employee, money had stopped,” Prunty said. “I didn’t qualify for any grants, and I was too small and didn’t qualify for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) initially.

“The TV made it sound like there was all this free money, but we didn’t get anything for businesses of my size,” she added. “It’s been touch and go — it’s been hard.”

Like many businesses in the age of COVID, though, Prunty has adapted. She launched online dance lessons through Zoom, and while it wasn’t the best option for some, it was a way for the children and teens to learn and dance to their hearts’ content.

“We were not able to do our recital this year, which was really sad; really frustrating,” she added.

Prunty said she hasn’t qualified for any grants, and other loans have helped to pay her assistants what they would have made if they’d had class.

“I am so thankful and blessed that I am getting these loans but I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding, too,” Prunty said. “I think people have this notion that we’re getting all of this free money not to work, and that is not the case at all.”

While COVID is still impacting her business, Prunty is upbeat about the future. Classes are already planned and slated to begin in her new location in September, and while she said enrollment is down about 20%, her numbers are still looking great. She’s turning to her waiting list to fill in some of the classes and will continue to provide lessons over Zoom, which can be recorded for playback to make it more convenient for families.

“There are some kids and families that are not returning to anything — not even to school,” Prunty said. “It makes me really sad because these kids need that interaction.”

For those who do attend lessons at the studio, Prunty said there’s plenty of space in the new location to social distance, and the new HVAC system has an air exchange.

“We’re going to get through this and our kids need to keep something positive in their life,” Prunty said. “Minnesota DEED is allowing us to continue and not shut our doors.”

Most loan requests came from food service industry

Restaurants, bars, a pair of breweries and a winery were among those from the six counties of far southwest Minnesota requesting Small Business Emergency Loans. The owner of a fitness center and a couple of hair salon owners also were successful in getting emergency loans.

For a complete list of loan recipients and the amount received, visit https://bit.ly/2Y1QcKV.