The custom suit shop in the Short North received two federal stimulus loans that are helping save what would have been a busy season for wedding attire.

 Within roughly a month, Nate DeMars, founder of specialty suit shop Pursuit, closed his stores because of COVID-19, laid off all his employees, spiraled into a dark funk while running his hobbled business single-handedly, and then—reprieve!— learned he was green-lighted for two loans under the federal stimulus program, letting him rehire eight employees. 

It has been a rollercoaster of tears, adrenaline and anxiety. And while relief washed over him when he learned he would receive loans under the Disaster Relief and Paycheck Protection programs, he felt guilt, as he knows other business owners who need—and haven’t received—this help. 

More small business stories on dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

Spring and summer—wedding season—is the busiest time of year for Pursuit, a custom suit shop founded in 2011. Since moving to the Short North in 2015, business quadrupled, and in fall 2018 DeMars opened a Cincinnati shop, expecting sales there to double this year. Then COVID-19 hit. 

By Sunday of the week Gov. Mike DeWine closed restaurants, DeMars knew staying open to the public wouldn’t work. “No tailor wants to be standing next to someone, pinning them,” he says. 

Ahead of closing, DeMars laid off his in-store employees first, then his leadership team. He began renegotiating payments to vendors, grateful for their flexibility. “I’ve never not paid a bill in my life,” he says. 

Normally, the Short North store does a little over $1 million in annual sales, just over half from weddings. He had hoped to barely get by online. 

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DeMars also serves on the Short North Alliance board. “I’ve cried about once a day for someone else’s businesses,” he says. “Everyone around us is a small business. You feel a personal connection.”

He hopes much of Pursuit’s 2020 business is delayed, not lost. And while he can’t imagine opening before mid-May, he’s brainstorming changes for a socially distanced near future, including “pre-tailored” suits. 

“This might sound dramatic, but I’ve been thinking about this as a near-death experience, but as a business,” DeMars says. “I’m not going to stick my neck out there and take on more debt to have the same business I had beforehand.” 

Amy Braunschweiger is a freelance writer.