Hollywood Park – After nearly three decades, a Navy veteran Taekwondo gym owner was locked out of his business for failure to pay rent. He’s now warning other businesses to seek and ask for financial help early to survive the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tai Nguyen, owner of U.S. Taekwondo, has been at the same Hollywood Park location for 28 years. He said the pandemic was especially hard on his business, and he was ready to call it quits in September when his lease was up.
“I wanted to end my career just, you know, in a dignified way and just, you know, say goodbye to my kids,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said he was working on breaking the news to his clients when pandemic problems caught up with him.
“I mean, trying to provide for the business income and expenses for the vehicle and my own personal home and stuff — it was just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said.
Because of the pandemic, Nguyen lost 90% of his students and was also three months behind on rent and late fees caused by the 2020 mandated closures. It all caught up with him last week. He says he got his first Notice of Default, and the next day, he was locked out of his gym, along with the load of students he picks up after school.
“After I got the letter the following day, I went to the bank to get my money out of my retirement fund, and I was going to pay for it. And then the following day, I got locked out,” he said.
Nguyen was forced to drive the kids to his home and call their parents. He hasn’t been able to access his personal items from inside the gym either.
REOC, the leasing company, said it could not answer questions regarding the property because it’s a contractual issue between the tenant and owner.
“I really don’t want to be on the news for this, but I feel like I’m standing up for all the small people that are struggling through this, and supposedly all these big companies, they get all these PPP loans, you know, and they make their money. But in the meantime, they still stick it to us and charges us extra late fees,” Nguyen said.
The Bronze Star U.S. Navy veteran started his business when he left the armed forces. He says he tried to get COVID-19 loans and grants recently, but it either wasn’t enough, or he didn’t qualify.
Nguyen admits he’s prideful and wants to find a way to keep his business running.
“I want to take care of my own business and pay my own way, and I’ve never asked for anybody for any help. I started this business in my early 20s right out of the Navy, took a $2,000 loan, and paid it off within six months working two jobs at USAA,” he said.
Janie Barrera, president and CEO of LiftFund, says businesses facing financial troubles need to reach out before it’s too late.
“Those people that are ready for loans and need loans right now. You know, we have working capital loans,” she said. “We have loans available here in San Antonio, in Bexar County that are low-interest … 3.5% interest rates, and it can be used for working capital. Some people may say, well, can I use it for rent? Yes.”
But she says it’s not just about handing out money. Small business owners can also get training on how to improve their business management to ensure that they don’t end up losing the loans or grants they do receive. There’s a lot of interest right now on PPP loans and stimulus money, but it’s not clear when those funds will arrive. The application process takes time, so businesses on the verge of financial trouble need to start looking for options now.