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New PPP Loan Rules Could Be A Lifeline For Harvard Square Mainstay

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) - It's just before closing time at The Million Year Picnic. Inside, owner Anthony Davis is still busy organizing.

"This is a great book. It's a local creator," Davis said as he pulled Raul The Third's latest children's book: '!Vamos! Let's Go to the Market.'

The Harvard Square shop hasn't allowed customers in since March. Davis is doing everything to make his business work.

"We pretty quickly made the decision that we would be doing free home deliveries, doing mail-orders, doing safe pick-ups. But [we're] not allowing people to browse just because of the size of the shop," Davis said.

The shop's collection of children's books makes for good sales. But he says they're mostly being kept afloat by their regular customer base.

Million Year Picnic
The Million Year Picnic owner Anthony Davis (WBZ-TV)

"It's not nearly the business we were doing a year or two years ago. In the first three months after COVID hit we were down about 70 to 75 percent. And we're still down 50 percent," said Davis. "The only reason we're here is because of the patience of the trust that owns the building. And they've been very, very patient. For us, coming through with some grants and PPP loans is extremely important."

The Million Year Picnic first opened in 1973. It's the oldest existing comic book shop in New England – top four oldest in the country. Right now, Davis employs two people. Before the pandemic, that number was four. A new opportunity to apply for a PPP loan gives the venture hope.

"It would definitely for the next three to four months take care of our payroll needs. And hopefully allow us to meet some of our back rent," Davis said. "Rent right now is really the biggest consideration for businesses like ours. At least the PPP loans as they were set up initially are really geared towards businesses where payroll is the largest chunk of what they do. For us, rent is a larger chunk than payroll."

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Starting Wednesday, and for the next two weeks, only businesses with fewer than 20 employees will be allowed to apply for a PPP loan. The federal assistance is aimed at targeting small and minority owned businesses. The changes will also eliminate restrictions that cut off PPP aid from small business owners with prior non-fraud felony convictions or to those who are delinquent on their student loans. And improve access for non-citizen owners.

"We will ensure every dollar is spent well. These changes will bring much-needed, long overdue to help to small businesses who really need help staying open, maintaining jobs, and making ends meet," President Biden said.

Davis says he'll have his application ready Tuesday and is hopeful an approval would buy him time, give him and his staff a chance at getting vaccinated, and welcome the public back into the shop. It also gives them a shot at staying open.

"I really look forward to people being able to come back into the store," Davis said. "The ability to have people come back in through the doors and enjoy our wares, that would give me all the happiness in the world."

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