Many businesses in the Capital Region are struggling to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic – but there is a new grant available to help keep them afloat.
Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region says COVID-19 Small Business Continuity Emergency Grants of up to $20,000 per business are available. But there are a few requirements. Executive Director of the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region Linda MacFarlane says the grant program is intended only for small businesses that are open during the pandemic.
“Where they have possibly pivoted their business and are doing something else and need some funding,” MacFarlane said, “or they have not gotten enough federal assistance or possibly not eligible or weren’t able to apply for federal assistance but they are continuing to operate and need some funds to help them in their operations.”
Businesses also must show they’ve taken at least a 10% revenue loss due to the pandemic, have fewer than 50 full-time employees and have been in stable operation since January 1. They also have to prove that they applied for federal resources already.
MacFarlane says Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region, which has been a WAMC underwriter, has received about 300 applications for the grant program – which has a pool of nearly $3 million available to give out – and started awarding the money May 13.
One of those grant recipients is Karen Maxwell, sole proprietor of Kema’s Kreations in Albany. Before the pandemic, her business was hand-made purses, backpacks, and duffels. Now – she makes reusable (and stylish) face masks.
“I had a request to do masks for the Albany Land Trust and after making those masks I then had a surge of folks wanting masks,” Maxwell said. “I donated some to healthcare workers and then I started selling them simply because fabric, elastic – everything is at a cost.”
Maxwell says as orders came in, if the person was a healthcare worker, she sent them the masks for free. If they insisted on paying, she gave them a 50% discount. Maxwell estimates she donated around 100 masks and made about 1,300 since the pandemic started.
“Because of the governor’s mandate, I had to have masks out rather quickly,” Maxwell said. “And they came in so fast that I got behind rather quick. So I had to hire someone to come and help me and I was struggling to pay them. I actually still owe them money.”
Maxwell plans to use the $20,000 grant to pay the workers back, and to buy a fabric cutting machine to speed up production. And Maxwell plans to keep making the masks, even after the reopening. She says people are starting to see face masks as a new accessory.
“So I don’t think that I’m going to see an immediate slowdown,” Maxwell said. “It has calmed down a little bit but now I’m getting folks that are reordering and wanting I think more fashionable type masks to go along with their clothes and their bags and stuff like that.”
Maxwell says the most popular design is the paisley bandana fabric. After that, it’s Minnie Mouse.
Another recipient of the Community Loan Fund COVID-19 Continuity Grant is Dance Fire Studio and Fitness in Niskayuna. Owner Florin Vlad moved to the United States from Romania in 2015. He and his wife, Natalia O’Connor, are in their 20s. They pooled all their savings to start the studio and so they needed a way to stay open during the pandemic.
“We were forced to find alternative ways to make ends meet,” Vlad said. “And we started transitioning to online dance classes. And that was an interesting way to see how we adapted to this new way of teaching dance and also how people responded to it.”
O’Connor and Vlad compete nationally in ballroom dance. Normally, group classes at Dance Fire Studio are about $15 per person and a private lesson is about $100. Once they shifted to social media livestreams and zoom lessons, they made all the group lessons longer – and free.
“Our main focus was to keep people engaged with dancing,” Vlad said, “and we wanted to encourage them to stay connected and keep learning and continue to be involved with this great art form.”
Vlad says customers are supporting them by purchasing gift certificates for future lessons.
Dance fire studio has five employees: three dance instructors and two front office workers. The office workers don’t have a job to do right now, but they’re still getting paid for the hours they would have been working if there weren’t a pandemic.
“We really value our employees and we want them to continue to be a part of our studio and we took that decision to continue to pay them,” Vlad said.
Vlad says the $10,000 grant from Community Loan Fund will help, but it will only cover about two months of their business’ rent. Their landlord has given them a 90-day extension for April’s rent, but they’re still behind. In the meantime, they will keep live-streaming and teaching lessons online.
Community Loan Fund Executive Director Linda MacFarlane says there is a second Community Loan Fund program in the works for businesses that are closed due to the pandemic – nonessential businesses and places that require close contact.
“Hair salons and barber shops are perfect examples,” MacFarlane said.
MacFarlane says soon these businesses will be looking to reopen and get back on their feet - once their region meets reopening criteria.
“Any business that has been forced to close now and cannot operate are going to have expenses that they are possibly not anticipating to reopen,” MacFarlane said.
Like buying masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment in order to meet reopening requirements.
MacFarlane says details of the reopening grant program are still being worked out, but Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region plans to announce more information after New York PAUSE ends.
In the meantime, MacFarlane is encouraging all small business owners to reach out to their landlords and come up with a plan for rent.
“Speak with the landlord,” MacFarlane said. “Explain that you are not able to have an income right now. If they’re not able to get any federal funding or any sort of grants – the money just isn’t there to pay rent. It just takes landlords being creative and caring.”
For more information on how to apply for a COVID-19 Small Business Continuity grant, visit https://mycommunityloanfund.org/covid-emergency-grants/
For more information on Kema’s Kreations, visit https://kemaskreation.com/
For Dance Fire Studio and Fitness classes, visit https://www.facebook.com/dancefirestudio/