The Feed Store, politics and PPP

To get a forgivable loan, first you must apply

Ross Richardson and his wife, Ann Laurence, didn't sound verbose last summer when they closed The Feed Store, a downtown restaurant they opened during the 1970s, after campaigning for former Gov. Dan Walker.

"I'm 72 years old and Ross is almost 69," Laurence told the Springfield Business Journal in July. "We've been talking about retiring for awhile, but the pandemic just tipped the scale."

Also last July, Richardson told Illinois Times that he'd considered applying for a paycheck protection program loan. "I thought about it – I thought about it as recently as a couple weeks ago," he said on The Feed Store's last day. "I didn't really want to take out a loan if I didn't know what I was going to be responsible for."

Now, in ads for Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, Democratic congressional candidate, Richardson says that his family got screwed while relatives of U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, shoehorned their way to a PPP feeding trough.

"The PPP loan program was supposed to be a lifeline for small businesses, but we got the runaround while political insiders got the money first," Richardson says in the ad for Londrigan's campaign. "Then funds ran out. Rodney Davis' family got to the front of the line for a million-dollar payout and he voted to keep it secret while businesses like ours suffered."

It is true that Davis' father and brother, who own several McDonald's franchises in Illinois, received PPP funds. There also is no proof that the congressman's family was treated any differently than anyone else when applying for federal funds, which St. Louis television station KMOV recently made clear in a report debunking the challenger's attack ads, including allegations that he'd voted to keep payouts secret to protect PPP loans made to his relatives.

Since the KMOV truth-squadding, Londrigan has doubled down with The Feed Store ad, not mentioning that Laurence and Richardson earlier this month announced that the business had been sold to a new owner who has purchased recipes and plans to soon start serving them, according to an Oct. 9 story in the State Journal-Register.

"(The new owner) plans to reopen The Feed Store offering our homemade soups, sandwiches, desserts and perhaps more," Laurence wrote in an email, the newspaper reported. "We wish him the best as he carries on our traditions."

In an interview, Richardson says that he inquired about a PPP loan last March, but his bank told him that it wasn't considering applications from multi-business owners, which he says never applied to him. "I said, "We're a mom-and-pop,'" Richardson recalls. "First, they said they wouldn't take our application. Then, they said the money ran out."

At some point, Richardson says, his bank, which he identified as U.S. Bank, referred him to a smaller lending institution, but he never filled out a PPP application, in part because he had no history with the smaller bank. As he did in July, Richardson also says that he was reluctant to apply for a PPP loan when he wasn't certain of repayment terms. "I thought, "To hell with it,'" Richardson says. "I never did formally apply."

Why is Londrigan attacking Davis on the PPP program when her poster child is a business owner who never applied for a PPP loan and was near retirement when pandemic hit?

Messages left with the Londrigan campaign were not returned, nor was a voicemail left on the candidate's phone. Aaron DeGroot, spokesman for the Davis campaign, said he wasn't familiar with details of The Feed Store situation, but he noted that KMOV has discredited Londrigan's previous attack ads alleging that the incumbent's relatives have received favorable treatment under the PPP program. "They were using the same language that they used in previous ads," DeGroot said. "I would just say that it's dishonest of the Londrigan campaign to put something like that on the airwaves."

Davis and Londrigan have a history of mudslinging. Two years ago, the incumbent painted Londrigan, who was once a lobbyist for the nonprofit foundation that supports the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, as an insider who leaned on Michael Madigan for public money to pay for a stovepipe hat that Lincoln purportedly wore but might be fake. "Betsy Londrigan, a Madigan crony: She can't be trusted with our tax dollars," the announcer intoned. While the foundation had sought a state bailout for the purchase of artifacts that included the hat, the foundation's board includes Republicans such as former Gov. Jim Edgar as well as Democrats, and Davis, under questioning by reporters, admitted that he had no evidence that Londrigan had ever met Madigan.

Last year, a volunteer for the Davis campaign impersonated a journalist to pose questions to Londrigan during a conference call with reporters. When the truth got out, Davis said he hadn't known of the deception and didn't approve of such tactics. At the time, Londrigan blasted the incumbent.

"Congressman Davis likes to go on television and talk about civility in politics, all the while his campaign is again engaging in an ongoing series of dishonest distractions," she told National Public Radio.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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