As the coronavirus epidemic has devastated small businesses nationwide, many local shops and restaurants have sought federal relief. But the City of Charlottesville has also rolled out several of its own assistance initiatives this month. The Building Resilience Among Charlottesville Entrepreneurs grant, which awarded up to $2,000 to city businesses, received nearly 150 applications in three days.
The program is intended to help companies cover costs associated with changing their business models to adapt to social distancing requirements, says Jason Ness, business development manager for the city’s Office of Economic Development. But it could also be used to cover fixed costs like utilities and rent.
With $85,000 allocated for the program, “we spread it out as much as we could,” says Ness. After reviewing applications and conducting virtual interviews, OED staff decided on 69 awardees, who received an average of $1,200 each.
Ness says the city gave priority to people who were going to use the funds locally. For instance, “if a business needed to do deep cleaning and was going to hire another [area] business to do that work, that scored higher.”
“The more information and explanation the business owners gave us, the easier it was for us to decide,” he adds.
Belmont restaurant The Local was among the awardees. Since March 18, the eatery has offered 10 meal options for a flat $10 fee, with 100 percent of the sales going to support its furloughed employees. It’s also provided free meals daily to its staff, and free and reduced-price meals to community members in need.
“The money from the grant is helping with food costs,” says Director of Operations Michelle Moshier. “We are [also] actively working on federal loans and grants that are available, as well as anything available through the city. …We’re hopeful that that support will help us to keep going with delivery and takeout until the restaurant can reopen.”
After losing more than two-thirds of her clients, Stephanie Ragland, owner of the cleaning service OMG! Cleaning Team, was also able to secure a $1,500 BRACE grant, which she plans to use to pay for a new professional vacuum (her old one broke), and compensate her employees. The funds also helped her pay off the rest of the fees associated with her company’s new website.
The local arts community wasn’t left out: With the $1,000 BRACE grant he received, filmmaker Ty Cooper, founder of Lifeview Marketing & Visuals, purchased a high-quality professional light that will allow him to film outside, which he was unable to do with his older equipment. He plans to use the light for his ongoing project, “Your Covid Story,” showcasing how the pandemic has impacted the lives of area residents.
Still, with the limited amount of funds allocated for BRACE grants, more than half of the applicants did not receive any money—a significant portion of them local restaurants.
“We have a text thread with about two dozen restaurant owners and managers to communicate every day,” says Maya co-owner Peter Castiglione. “There was a handful from our group…who did receive their $2,000 from the BRACE grant, but most of us got an ‘unfortunately’ email, which is what I received.”
Castiglione would have used the grant to help pay for some of Maya’s ongoing expenses. While the restaurant is currently offering curbside pickup meals, the entire staff has been laid off, he says.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that we didn’t make the cut [for the BRACE grant]. That $2,000 would have gone a long way towards helping our staff,” he adds. However, “I was very excited to know that some of the restaurants in our group did receive it.”
Atlas Coffee also did not receive a BRACE grant. The shop’s owners planned to use the grant for fixed expenses because Atlas is not currently offering delivery or takeout options.
“For a couple months, we’re fine…but [say] we open back up in May, June, July, whatever. If you look at the Spanish flu and that experience, it’s the second wave that really affected people,” says Atlas co-owner Lorie Craddock. “If we have to do it again in November and shut for another six [months], we’re really going to be in the weeds at that point.”
Applications for other city business assistance programs—the Business Equity Fund Resiliency Loan and the Growing Opportunities Hire Grant—have already closed, but the city and county have provided funding for the Community Investment Collaborative’s Business Recovery Fund microloan program, which is currently accepting applications.
According to Ness, the city plans to look for more ways to provide aid to local businesses.
“We’re still interested and have resources available to help with more assistance in the future,” he says. “It’s just a matter of trying to see how things are going to play out in the next couple months, with hopefully [things returning] back to normal as soon as possible.”