GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After a year of shutdowns and restrictions, many Asian-owned small businesses in West Michigan are struggling to survive.

“We’re still slow because the COVID-19 keeps people away,” owner of Le Nails in Portage, Phong Pham, said.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study shows minority-owned businesses have been hit disproportionately during the pandemic, specifically having trouble when it comes to securing loans or other COVID-19 relief benefits.

“It’s like you’re dropped in a forest without a map and you’re just trying to make your way out of this,” attorney Crystal Bui said. “That’s the analogy I would give (and) I’m not trying to be dramatic there, but it really is that much more difficult for a minority business owner.”

As an active member of the Asian community in West Michigan and the founder of Asian Community Outreach, a local nonprofit organization, Bui has become a trusted resource for minority business owners. She primarily works with Asian-owned nail salons and other businesses in the personal care service industry.

“I work with minority business owners because we had that cultural connection and because I speak the language,” Bui said.

Bui said she assists business owners by helping them navigate challenges like the language barrier and cultural divide.

“I’ve kind of been the intermediary to complete their paperwork application and get some sort of temporary (financial) relief,” she said.

Her services span from securing loans to handling contracts and landlord disputes.

“I’m the person negotiating with the landlord and trying to tell their story,” Bui said. “I’m the person following the (COVID-19 restriction) updates saying, ‘You can’t do this, you’ve got to do this,’”

Through her work, Bui has helped a handful of salons find some relief during these troubling times.

Le Nails and Millenium Nails in Portage are two of the salons she represents. The owners are both grateful to have Bui’s expertise and guidance.

Even with Bui by their side, the salon owners are concerned about their ability to recover from the financial hit of the pandemic.

“It’s very stressful, we think about it every day,” Pham said. “We work seven days a week to hope that the business stays alive and that the pandemic goes away soon.”

Bui said there’s still a great need for more people and resources to help Asian-owned businesses impacted by the pandemic.

“I get calls all the time from nail salon tenants in Battle Creek, Muskegon and Lansing who say, ‘I have this situation,’” Bui said. “But unfortunately, there’s only so many clients you can help because each situation is so complex.”

Wishing she could help more businesses, Bui has no choice but to turn these people away.

“That’s why I want to bring this story to light and make the community aware that a little bit of assistance and compassion and understanding in business dealings and from the community on all sides would really help,” she said.