City Program to Support Small Businesses Underway
As the City of Madison, residents, business owners and development community continue to adjust to the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has brought, we recognize the need to invest in supporting our small business community. Without a significant influx of federal assistance, many small businesses face the real prospect of permanently closing. As the year comes to a close, Congress passed another aid package which will hopefully aid individuals, businesses and communities in Wisconsin. In the meantime we created the Small Business Equity and Recovery Program (SBER) grant to aid ailing small business like Wisconsin Mujer founder Araceli Esparza:
"We applied for the SBER Grant because we had many challenges in our last two quarters. Because of the pandemic, we had key contractors that left us, we needed equipment to be able to pivot seriously into a virtual format, and we had several in-person events that canceled. These circumstances pushed us to ask for help, so that we could survive another year, and rebuild for this new economy."
In creating this grant the City of Madison recognized the historic and current inequities in funding and support for small businesses owned by people of color, so the Common Council enacted the Small Business Equity and Recovery COVID Grant Program (SBER) on October, 20, 2020.
The grant has already been a beacon of hope for local store owners like Cuong Duong of Saigon Sandwich who said:
“The grant will help us to sustain the operation by being able to buy supplies, pay overhead costs, and various expenses to create and update our business operation to implement the social distance regulation. Without the grant, we face the challenge of losing the income to continue and maintain business operations”.
SBER aims to focus on businesses owned by people of color. Unique and successful independent retail businesses can have a significant effect on the attractiveness and marketability of the surrounding area. This program encourages business owners to invest in safety adjustments and new ways of serving customers.
In November, we received 128 eligible applications requesting over $650,000.00 in grant funding. 65 of these requests have been granted, with 18 still in the review process. The average grant amount awarded was $6,600. We are currently reviewing the December applications. We have received over 296 applications in December and estimate the requested grant amount will be over $1.5 million dollars.
This innovative, equity-driven grant process enhances Madison’s resiliency during one of the toughest economic times this city has ever seen. Keeping local Madison business strong while addressing long seeded inequities in our economic landscape are both proud achievements of this grant and can be seen in stories like that of Teddywedgers owner, Karima Berkani:
“We are so grateful for the SBER grant from the City of Madison. Teddywedgers has been located at the top of State Street since 1977 and has been an integral part of the Madison community serving up hot pasties, the traditional food of early Wisconsin miners. We always have customers thank us for keeping the shop going. That is usually followed by a story of how they remember eating Teddywedgers pasties when they were children, or were in school at the UW or visiting Madison. Through the years we have also supported the homeless downtown by providing free pasties, masks and hand sanitizers and daily check-ins or smiles as they walk by. It would leave a void in the lives of many people if we were forced to close down.
The SBER grant allows us to pay fixed costs such as rent and electricity so that we can make it through the winter months. We rely heavily on foot-traffic and downtown events but with the unprecedented hardships of 2020 our sales have decreased by 30-40%. One of our greatest fears was that we would need to cut staff during the winter months or take second jobs ourselves. The SBER grant came along at the perfect time to help us through the slowest months of the year.”
Clearly the need is great, which is why further state and federal funding is so necessary. Throughout the pandemic I have advocated with state and federal officials for necessary aid for our residents and businesses, including extended unemployment, direct stimulus payments to families, rental assistance and more. I am hopeful that some of that aid will soon be delivered to Wisconsin. In the meantime, we can all support our local businesses by shopping small whenever possible. With the help of government and our community, we can help small businesses make it through the winter.