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Small-business owners, hit by recession, seek remedies

By Rachel Streitfeld, CNN
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What mom and pop need
  • Small-business owners: Banks have stopped lending money that would help us stay open
  • ADP: Businesses with fewer than 50 employees cut 68,000 jobs in November
  • President Obama: We're trying to get banks to lend more

Washington (CNN) -- Denise D'Amour's business had never been better. In 2000 she opened a bike shop in a quaint Washington neighborhood, selling a range of bicycles and gear. Capitol Hill Bikes became popular enough for her to expand the shop twice.

Then the recession hit, and like many small businesses, D'Amour's shop struggled to stay afloat. Fewer people bought new bikes, and D'Amour could no longer afford the bike shop's rent. Her bank reduced her credit line.

"When that dried up, we had to use our existing cash reserves to get product, and we're kind of chasing it a little bit," D'Amour said. "So you sell a bike and use that money to buy another one."

Now the shop's windows are plastered with giant liquidation signs proclaiming "Going out of business," and "75 percent off."

D'Amour is not alone. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees cut 68,000 jobs in November, according to employment services company ADP.

A range of small-business owners tell CNN their banks have stopped lending them the money that the owners say would help them weather the recession.

The White House focused on the plight of small businesses last week at a jobs summit, which brought together business owners and financial experts to discuss the economic situation.

President Obama acknowledged the difficulties plaguing entrepreneurs.

"We are constantly looking for more ways that we can push the banks and the credit markets to get money into the hands of small and medium-sized businesses who create the majority of jobs," Obama said.

Rose Wang, who runs a small consulting firm called Binary Group, attended the summit. She told participants about the problems she's encountered in her business.

"We focused on two big areas," Wang said. "One was access to capital and the other one was tax credits -- using tax to stimulate and solve jobs [loss] and some of these problems."

Wang said she and others cannot grow their small businesses when banks won't lend any money.

And this year economic hard times forced Wang to lay off 10 percent of her employees.

"It was a really tough business decision," she said. "I care a lot about my employees. And that's part of the attraction for people who want to work for small businesses. Small businesses tend to operate like a family."

Despite it all, though, both Wang and D'Amour remain optimistic about their futures.

"We're not down and out," said D'Amour, who hopes to reopen in a smaller space. "We're going to be back stronger than ever because we're going to have a focus on our core business and we're going to resist the temptation to go beyond what we can fully sustain in tough economic times."