7 On Your Side Investigates small businesses struggling this holiday season

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Holiday shopping isn't the same this year, especially for businesses in New York City that are sandwiched in between many empty storefronts.

The owner of Exit9 Gifts in the East Village says it has been his worst year since he started.

"By far, this is the worst," Charles Branstool said. "A lot of damage has already happened."

He's hanging in there thanks to an uptick in early holiday shopping, with many people buying presents well in advance to allow time to mail them to family and friends they can't see in person.

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But two of Branstool's competitors shut down, their storefronts vacant.

"It's nerve racking," Branstool said. "It's one less reason anyone would come to this neighborhood."

Even though many stores have been open again for months, some are seeing customers just trickle in. It can be a recipe for disaster, said the owner of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the East Village.

"Small businesses make most of their profits in December, and that's not going to happen this year," Slotnick said.

The federal government offered what's called Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans earlier this year that were designed to help small businesses with payroll and rent costs.

"It satisfied my landlord for a while, and it allowed me to pay out money to my employees," Branstool said.

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Businesses in New York City received more than $18 billion worth of PPP loans, and thousands of small retail stores received $115 million of that money. But the owners we spoke with say that money and benefits were used up months ago.

"The amount of the PPP was only enough to cover about a month's rent," Slotnick said.

Now, the city and state are calling for more help in the form of federal stimulus funds. But many businesses can't afford to wait.

Slotnick's bookstore is still open today, not because of the federal loan, but because her landlord isn't charging her normal rent. She pays what she can.

"It wasn't even a plan, it was 'let's talk each month, and we'll make it work'," landlord Garth Johnston said. "When you are lucky, it's important to share your luck."

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