Upended by COVID-19, a Wayzata florist landed a federal loan. And then the wait started.
Liz Mattingly had to wait two months for the $19,905 she was entitled to collect through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
The shop owner should have collected the money 10 days after the loan was approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which would have allowed her to rehire her furloughed workers sooner and get them off unemployment.
But Mattingly’s bank, Wells Fargo, failed to notify her of the approval and later refused to release the funds because of a glitch in her application. Other customers of big banks have also complained about delays in obtaining their funds.
“I think it’s because we had a small loan and we’re a small business,” said Mattingly, owner of Lilia Flower Boutique in Wayzata. “We’re unimportant. They make it really obvious to you.”
In a written statement, Wells Fargo spokesman Steve Carlson said the bank is sometimes unable to move forward with funding a PPP loan when it can’t confirm that all lending requirements have been met.
“We are sorry for the hardship this caused Ms. Mattingly,” Carlson said in the statement. “We can’t comment on the specific details of a customer’s situation.”
Mattingly started her business nine years ago, and it was coming off its best year — posting $500,000 in sales — when COVID-19 reached Minnesota. Though her shop was allowed to remain open, Mattingly said her event business plummeted as couples postponed weddings and restaurants closed across the state. She applied for a PPP loan in April.
“We’ve lost about 50% of our income because of weddings,” said Mattingly, whose shop usually does $150,000 in wedding arrangements each summer. “People aren’t canceling on us, but they are rescheduling, and a lot of that work won’t happen until 2021.”
Mattingly’s small shop has just two full-time employees, and she sent them home in late March, shortly after the governor issued his first stay-home order. Flower shops were allowed to remain open for delivery business because they were deemed “critical” to the economy.
She expected her retail business to collapse, but the shop stayed surprisingly busy. Mattingly said her online sales tripled as customers called in large orders for birthdays and anniversaries as a substitute for taking a loved one to dinner.
But with her employees at home, Mattingly, who is pregnant, and her husband, Julian, had to do all the work.
“It’s been a really crazy two months,” said Mattingly, who is due to deliver her first baby in July. “We have been working 12- and 14-hour days every week.”
Mattingly wanted to rehire her workers shortly after Mother’s Day, but her PPP application was put on hold when the program ran out of money in mid-April. On April 25, after Congress agreed to make another $310 billion available to small-business owners, Wells Fargo sent her an e-mail telling her the bank would soon submit her paperwork.
“These are truly unprecedented times that we know are impacting both you and your business, and we will continue to partner and communicate with you throughout this crisis,” Wells Fargo said in the e-mail.
Mattingly was anxiously waiting for an approval letter when a regular customer walked into her shop in early June. The customer wanted to know when the shop would be open normal hours instead of closing at 3 p.m. Julian told her that couldn’t happen until they got their PPP money. That’s when Mattingly’s luck changed.
The customer happened to be Annalise Phillips, wife of U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, who had just persuaded his colleagues to pass legislation giving business owners more time to use their PPP money. Until that happened, businesses were facing a June 30 deadline to spend the funds.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry, my husband just got the government to sign a new law. You’re going to be fine,’ ” Mattingly recalled.
The conversation lit a fire under the Mattinglys, who decided it was time to try applying for a PPP loan with another bank. At the recommendation of a friend, they chose Crown Bank, which submitted a new application last week only to discover that the SBA had already approved a loan for Mattingly’s business through Wells Fargo.
To straighten out the confusion, Crown Bank vice president Lisa Perlman said she spoke last week with Martin Beetler, the senior manager of the Wells Fargo branch in Wayzata. She said Beetler told her that the bank couldn’t release the funds because the SBA approved the loan for Mattingly’s company, EM Enterprises, which was different from the business name on her bank account, “Elizabeth Mattingly DBA Le Fleur de Lilia.”
“It is an easy thing to fix,” said Perlman, who created a new bank account for Mattingly that matched the name on her application. “But nobody was telling them what the problem was.”
Beetler declined to comment, referring all questions to Wells Fargo.
“I’ve been depositing checks made out to EM Enterprises for years, and they never said anything,” Mattingly said. “But now the name is a problem all of a sudden?”
Mattingly said Wells Fargo offered no solutions to the dilemma, so she told the bank to officially cancel her loan request and switched her account. Crown Bank submitted a new application for Mattingly on June 12. The SBA approved the deal three days later and Crown Bank deposited $19,905 into her new account on Tuesday. Mattingly said her employees were back to work that same day.
“I think if we hadn’t made an effort to figure things out, we’d think we were still waiting for the SBA to approve us,” Mattingly said. “We can’t be the only ones they did this to.”
Wells Fargo declined to say how many PPP applicants have waited more than 10 days for their funds.
Rep. Phillips said he has heard complaints from other Minnesota businesses that have struggled to get their share of PPP money. “I really do celebrate our community bankers for stepping up to the plate,” he said.
At Crown Bank, which has processed 250 PPP loans totaling $36 million, 200 of those loans involved new customers, Perlman said.
“They left bigger banks like Wells Fargo because they couldn’t get it done there,” Perlman said.
Business owners have until June 30 to apply for a PPP loan.