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Towns step up to help small businesses that ‘fall through the cracks’

  • Pedestrians cross Main Street in Greenfield. Staff FILE PHOTO/Dan Little

Published: 5/17/2020 12:28:53 PM

Greenfield, Montague and Shelburne will soon offer grants to local small businesses that have lost out on expected revenue because of the coronavirus.

The grants are geared toward businesses that may have been crowded out of the federal government’s recent efforts to support businesses during the pandemic.

All three towns expect their funding programs to be ready by late May or early June. The Franklin County Community Development Corporation is administering the grants, which will be about $5,000 each.

All three towns are drawing their money by repurposing past years’ federal grants they ended up not expending. Each town has between $50,000 and $60,000 in unused grants that it is now using — enough to give grants to about 10 or 11 companies each, for now.

The grants are designed for companies that are “small businesses” by the standards of the county. Companies are eligible if they have 500 employees or fewer.

“We primarily work with businesses that have 20 employees or less,” Franklin County Community Development Corporation Executive Director John Waite said. “When we refer to small businesses, we’re referring to real small businesses. Some people fall through the cracks.”

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been severe on the local economy, Waite said. He said his organization currently has about 110 borrowers; about half have asked for deferments on their loan payments.

The most exposed businesses, Waite said, have been the consumer-facing “Main Street” businesses: walk-in retail, yoga studios, nail salons and others have lost much of their revenue; but many still have expenses, which haven’t dropped in proportion. Even restaurants, whenever they are allowed to fully reopen, will likely be considerably less busy, he said.

Supporting Greenfield’s ‘engine oil’

In Greenfield, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner created the city’s COVID Recovery Micro-Enterprise Assistance Program to help small businesses that have suffered negative economic impacts from the governor’s required shutdown and restrictions.

The goal of this program is to make money available to businesses to “tide them over” during the pandemic until they are able to access other programs and/or restore revenue streams and cash flow, according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office.

“Taking care of our smallest businesses is critical at this time,” Wedegartner said. “Many of them are not eligible to take advantage of other small business loans because they are ‘too small.’ These businesses are the engine oil that allows our larger economic engine to run. They are essential to our coming recovery.”

Applications for the COVID Micro-Enterprise Assistance Program are now being accepted via the Community and Economic Development Department’s website: greenfield-ma.gov/cedd.

Businesses must be for-profit and located in Greenfield, and must have been operating on Sept. 10, 2019 and continued operating through March 10 of this year, the release states. They must also have five or fewer current employees, including the owner.

Businesses must either be open as an essential business or intend to reopen as allowed by guidance issued by the governor, and have annual gross sales of at least $20,000. The release states the owner’s household income cannot be greater than 80 percent of the median household income, and brick-and-mortar businesses will be given priority.

Wedegartner’s administration said funding will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Greenfield will also be creating its COVID Recovery Small Business Assistance Program for businesses that do not qualify as micro-enterprises. Also a forgivable loan program, it will be available to small businesses in operation for at least six months with 10 or fewer employees, including the owner. Those loans will be for up to $10,000 for up to three months of business expenses.

If businesses wish to receive direct notifications from the city about the two small business assistance programs, call Robin Fordham at 413-772-1548, ext. 4 or email: robin.fordham@greenfield-ma.gov.

Seeing the impact

In downtown Shelburne, many of the businesses make their money off tourists and pedestrian traffic, both of which have largely dried up, according to Linda Overing, a consultant who normally administers Shelburne’s federal grants for community development.

“When you walk the streets, you can see the impact by who is closed,” she commented.

Likewise, in Montague, many storefronts have been closed since the start of the stay-at-home advisory, said Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey. Some restaurants have adapted, but are still struggling, he said.

“A lot of businesses fell through that crack,” he said. “This is a way to help support them.”

The grants are technically loans that can be fully forgiven if the borrower provides documentation to prove that they used the money within the program’s rules — mainly, that it must be spent on regular business expenses, such as payroll, rent or loan payments, and not on construction or other improvements.

The rules for eligibility will vary from one town to the next. Greenfield and Shelburne have already finalized their rules through public hearings. Montague’s public hearing (to be held via remote connection) is Monday at 6:30 p.m.

Those who wish to receive direct notifications from the town of Montague about the small business assistance program should email their contact information to planner@montague-ma.gov or call 413-863-3200, ext. 112.

In Shelburne, companies are eligible if they have five employees or fewer including the owner, and the owner’s household income cannot be greater than 80 percent of the median household income, Overing said.

Companies will be evaluated based on their situation at the time of the application.

The Franklin County Community Development Corporation expects that the same legal infrastructure it is developing for these grants will be reusable for whatever future funding may come from the state or federal governments so that the money can be distributed quickly, Waite said.

“I think this is one step in the recovery,” Waite said. “There might need to be another one. Certainly this could be a key piece of it.”




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