ASHTABULA COUNTY, Ohio — Some small businesses trying to stay afloat during the pandemic are still having to make rent payments, even after Governor Mike DeWine issued an executive order urging landlords and lenders to suspend payments for 90 days.
DeWine signed that order on Wednesday, April 1, calling it a "plea" to landlords and lenders to work with small businesses during this time.
"If we do this right, if we hit that pause button, everybody in the process will get a chance to get through this," Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted said on April 1.
Tenants at the Ashtabula Towne Square Mall are still being asked to make rent payments, according to a letter emailed to tenants on April 3. A tenant provided a copy of that letter to News 5. Tenants were asked to sign and return the letter.
Casey Kozlowski, president of the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners, said commissioners were made aware of the issue this Friday, April 10.
"There [are], of course, many of them that feel that they are unable to meet that rent obligation, considering many of them are closed because they’re not considered an essential business during this time," Kozlowski said.
Kozlowski said he hopes the commissioners can speak with both the mall owner and the tenants to try to get both parties some state or federal assistance.
"There's the [Paycheck] Protection Program that will help provide some relief to provide coverage for payroll for those employees that do work for many of these small businesses located here in the county," Kozlowski said. "We’re also aware of an employee retention credit and also some SBA loans, resources that are available."
While some of those programs could mean taking out loans, Kozlowski said there are provisions in some of the programs that could allow for loan forgiveness when this is all over. He also urged landlords and lenders to work with businesses, as DeWine's order requested. He said the commissioners had received "very few complaints" about businesses in the county being required to make payments.
Kozlowski added, "We hope that at the end of the day, once we get through this, we can be stronger as a result."
News 5 called the owner of the Ashtabula Towne Square Mall, Kohan Retail Investment Group, several times Friday to speak with someone about the situation there, but as of 4 p.m., no one had responded.