Westerly oyster farm owner says loans, grants offered during pandemic saved his business

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WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — For Jeffery Gardner of Watch Hill Oysters, every dollar counts.

That’s why he’s thankful for the loans and grants his business has received throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Gardner knows he’s not alone. He said many businesses are in the same boat.

“It just nailed everybody,” he said. “Slammed the door shut.”

Gardner said ever since the restaurants he sells his oysters to ended up closing their doors or restricting business, he’s had a hard time making a profit.

“I’d say about 90-to-95% of all oysters consumed in the country are consumed by restaurants,” Gardner said.

He said that’s the main reason he applied for a loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) last year.

Since then, he’s received multiple grants and loans through a variety of programs. Without them, he said his business may not have survived 2020.

“If it weren’t for these grants and loans, I wouldn’t be able to buy my [oyster] seeds, and any infrastructure of the seed producer is gone,” he said. “If they go out of business, then who is going to stay in business so you can buy your seed?”

Gardner said while the process wasn’t easy, it was worth it.

“Pretend you are doing your tax returns and you should be able to do it,” he said. “Rhode Island is in a tough place. I don’t know when it’s going to come back, nobody does. It’s kind of depressing. But we have to keep working at it. Everybody who is a food producer is wondering what they are going to do.”

Rhode Island’s SBA echoes Gardner’s message, and said any business that is struggling should reach out to them for help. The deadline to apply for the next round of PPP is March 31.

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