A flood of business bankruptcies likely in coming months

FILE - In this April 2, 2020 file photo, "For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs are displayed in the window of a store in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. Business filings under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law rose sharply in March, and attorneys who work with struggling companies are seeing signs that more owners are contemplating the possibility of bankruptcy. Government aid my simply be too little too late. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK – The billions of dollars in coronavirus relief targeted at small businesses may not prevent many of them from ending up in bankruptcy court.

Business filings under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law rose sharply in March, and attorneys who work with struggling companies are seeing signs that more owners are contemplating the possibility of bankruptcy.

Companies forced to close or curtail business due to government attempts to stop the virus's spread have mounting debts and uncertain prospects for returning to normal operations. Even those owners receiving emergency loans and grants aren't sure that help will be enough.

The most vulnerable companies include the thousands of restaurants and retailers that shut down, many of them more than a month ago. Some restaurants have managed to bring in a bit of revenue by serving meals for takeout and delivery, but even they are struggling financially. Small and independent retailers, including those with online stores. are similarly at risk; clothing retailers have the added problem of winter inventory that they are unlikely to sell with spring here and summer approaching.

Independent oil companies whose revenue was slammed by the collapse in energy prices also are strapped, as are other companies that were already burdened with high debt levels before the virus struck.

Jennifer Bennett, who closed one of her San Francisco restaurants on Wednesday, was still waiting for the financial aid she sought from the federal, state and city governments. Even with the money, she doesn’t know if the revenue will cover the bills when she’s finally able to reopen Zazie — especially if she’s required to space tables six feet apart for social distancing.

“Our occupancy is going to be cut 60% to 65%,” Bennett says. “I fear bankruptcy is a possibility.”

Other small companies have similar anxieties, says Paul Singerman, a bankruptcy attorney with Berger Singerman in Miami.