Local businesses hit hard by lost sales from the Covid-19 pandemic say financial help from the City of Eugene’s Business Investment Grant Fund is helping to keep their doors open and people employed.
The City and Community Lending Works collaborated in December to distribute a total of $100,000 in federal CARES Act funds to 15 small Eugene businesses. Most of the grants were for $5,000, with five companies receiving $10,000 each. The grant fund attracted 237 applicants, an indicator of the need by businesses struggling to survive.
A variety of small firms received financial assistance, including four restaurants, a catering company, a tax preparation firm, an auto detailing business, a commercial printer and a dog training business. More than half of the businesses are owned by women.
Grant recipients said they are using the money to pay employees, as well as rent, utilities, supplies and other expenses needed to stay open.
Claim 52 Kitchen on Willamette Street, for example, used some of the grant to help pay the rent for the tents that cover restaurant’s sidewalk seating.
“Allowing us to have those 36 seats for on-premise consumption of food and beer has made the difference in keeping staff employed,” said co-owner Mercy McDonald. “When we dialed back to a to-go only model, our staff shrinks from 14 to around 6. The additional tent seating has allowed us to move our kitchen staff back to full-time and hire an additional line cook, as well as re-employ 3 to 4 additional front-of-house staff.”
The rest of the grant will be used as a “payroll buffer in the event we are dialed back into a to-go only model,” McDonald said.
El Taco Fresco in Valley River Center’s food court is limited to takeout meals, which has cut sales by more than half compared to before the pandemic. Owner Noe Garcia said he had four employees before Covid-19, but he now has two.
Garcia said he’s using the $5,000 grant for payroll, rent, food, and utilities. He says he most needs the pandemic to recede so his eatery can again serve customers in the food court. “It’s very hard to survive,” he said.
Some grant recipients used the funds to acquire Covid-19 related items. Liberty Tax Service, on West Sixth Avenue, for example, purchased plexiglass dividers to protect tax preparers and customers, said owner Tom Ames. It also will use the money to hire an employee to help make sure physical distancing is maintained when clients drop off tax returns, he said.
Sales at Triangle Graphics in West Eugene dropped 48 percent from last March through December compared to 2019. That forced the company to layoff four of its eight employees, owner John Henzie said. On Feb. 1, Triangle will start using the $5,000 grant to “compensate our employees for hours lost due to reduced sales,” he said. “Five thousand dollars only goes so far, but it will help us retain cash on hand that much longer.”
Patronizing local businesses during this difficult time is the best way for Eugene residents to support small firms, grant recipients said. Sales equals cash flow, which is what local businesses need most right, they said.
Henzie urged Eugene residents to shop local instead of buying products online from out-of-state companies. “Don’t assume that ordering online is better, faster or less expensive,” he said.
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