MARBLEHEAD — National Grand Bank officials stayed up all night last Monday processing forgivable loans meant to keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

That's because the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program had resumed, thanks to a cash infusion of $310 billion contained in new federal coronavirus legislation. It's meant to provide relief to small businesses and help them continue paying employees during the pandemic. The program ran out of cash in mid-April, just a short time after it first became available.

James Nye, National Grand Bank's president and a Marblehead selectman, said during the initial $349 billion round — which was part of the CARES Act passed in March — that the bank processed 151 loans totaling $10 million. The average loan size was $35,000, with the smallest being $25,000 and the biggest being $575,000.

That program opened on April 9, but a week later the SBA's website shut down as bank officials were still processing a loan application as the program ran out of funds, Nye said.

A new round of funding meant the bank started processing more loans last week.

According to the U.S. Treasury, PPP provides up to eight weeks of payroll costs for small businesses. The money can be used to pay mortgage interest, rent and utilities. The loans will be forgiven when at least 75% is used for payroll.

When the program reopened on Monday, April 27, National Grand Bank staff went about processing close to 30 applications that day, but the website kept crashing. A process that should take three to four minutes would take 45 minutes to an hour in some cases.

As of 10:30 a.m. last Tuesday morning, Nye said the bank had given out 10 loans. One of those was to X-treme Silk Screen and Design of Lynn. Owner Ron Caliri, of Marblehead, had applied unsuccessfully during the first round.

When PPP reopened, Caliri applied through National Grand Bank. On Monday after 11 p.m., the bank contacted him about a missing piece of information on his application.

On Tuesday morning, he was able to secure a PPP loan to provide for payroll for five employees for eight weeks. His business has been hit hard by the loss of spring sports and people not making end-of-the-year school T-shirts.

"It's very good news," Caliri said. "I was wondering how we were going to make it."

Jen DiPietro, owner with her husband Tom, of DiPietro Family Contracting of Marblehead, said she tried going through a larger bank during the first round. She later found out her application was never processed after the program first shut down.

DiPietro was recommended to National Grand Bank, even though the business did not have an account there. They got in their application last weekend, and on Tuesday morning they got a loan, which will "allow us to retain our guys."

Don Dowling, owner of Marblehead Collision, said he's doing a third of his usual business. His shop employs 16 people. When the first round of PPP was announced, he reached out early to National Grand Bank and became one of the state's first businesses to receive a loan, according to the bank.

Chip Percy, the owner of Three Cod Tavern on Pleasant Street, wants to reopen his kitchen in early May for to-go orders using about eight staffers, less than a third of his 35 full- and part-time employees. The restaurant faces expenses for rent and utilities, and to pay its local fishmongers.

However, PPP ran out of money when he first applied, but his application was ready to go when it reopened. 

"I can sleep again," Percy said about getting a PPP loan.

Employees of National Grand Bank were not the only ones to lose sleep over the relief program resuming last week.

"It has been the most challenging experience of my almost 40-year career," said Joe Riley, an executive vice president at Salem Five, who was sending emails at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. PPP has "gotten better with the passage of time. Like everything else, you live and learn."

"We've had a lot of committed people working around the clock," Riley said of bank staff working on the loans. Their work, he said, is driven by seeing how many jobs are being sustained with the loans.



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