As businesses continue to navigate through the pandemic, corporations are stepping in to provide financial relief and help keep their doors open.
The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, in conjunction with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have launched its second economic relief initiative. The Michigan Small Business Restart Program is planning to distribute just over $7 million dollars in relief funds to small businesses across the city of Detroit.
The Michigan Small Business Restart Program is a federally funded program that provides economic relief to small businesses and non-profits with less than 50 employees worldwide based in Michigan. Through the CARES Act, funding was approved in July for small businesses in an effort to keep doors open and keep residents employed through the pandemic.
“The Michigan Small Business Restart Program is helping Detroit businesses remain open and allowing them to adapt and grow during these uncertain economic times,” says Pierre Batton, DEGC Vice President Small Business Services. “Several of our Detroit small businesses are using COVID-19 relief funding to digitize goods and services, hire back employees and adhere to health and safety protocols. This grant program provides a lifeline for Detroit small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy.”
The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation will distribute $7.25 million dollars with at least 70 percent of the funds being awarded to Black-owned, woman and veteran-owned businesses. Providing over 900 small businesses in the city with a grant of at least $20,000 dollars, the relief program is helping to keep the community alive.
“Protecting Detroit’s small businesses that have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 crisis is a key priority for the City,” says Kevin Johnson, President and CEO of DEGC. “Assistance from the Restart Program will help businesses suffering from lost revenue. Our entire community is coming together with resources to help our small businesses survive this crisis so we can protect jobs, economic growth and the neighborhood vibrancy that comes from the small business community.”
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the economy, many small businesses are finding the restart program’s funds have provided them the assistance needed to continue operations.
“Skin Bar VII opened late last year on Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion,” says owner Sevyn Jones. “We were just hitting our stride when the COVID-19 crisis hit. We have been blessed to receive funding from both the Relief and Restart grant programs. As a result, we are open today both online and in-person. At our store on Livernois, we’re practicing newly implemented cleaning and have been following health and safety regulations. As our customer traffic increases and we adjust to the new normal, we are looking to hire additional employees.”
Jerome Brown co-owns Detroit Soul alongside his brother, Samuel Van Buren. The soul food restaurant is in the Osbourne neighborhood of Detroit. Serving as a carry-out restaurant with a dine-in option before the pandemic hit, the restaurant was forced to revamp its business.
“We are primarily carry-out. We have a dining room that seats about 20-25 people. Customers can come to the counter and order their food and sit in the dining room,” Brown explains. “About 20 percent of our business was catering; baby showers, weddings, corporate events. When the pandemic hit, we had a complete shutdown of the catering business. Because of social distancing, we lost the dining room portion of business too. We went to 100 percent call-in and carryout mode.”
With the goal of keeping its employees working, the brothers chose to keep its doors open despite businesses closing down in their neighborhood.
“A key for us, when this all started my brother and I discussed what we were going to do and we decided to stay open. Even though this pandemic is going, we stayed open to be a symbol of consistency in the community,” Brown says.
Through the Detroit Business Liaison program, Detroit Soul was made aware of the Michigan Small Business Restart Program and applied to help curve the costs of staying open.
“We worked very closely with the Detroit business liaison for district three. Through him, we found out about the DEGC restart program to help facilitate some of our gaps,” Brown shares.
Upon approval of the grant, the brothers used the money to keep their employees, invest in their safety and revamp the menus for the restaurant.
“It was about three weeks between applying for the grant and receiving the funds. The restart program, the turn-around was really great,” Brown says.
Fit4Life Health and Fitness LLC, another business that benefited from the Michigan Small Business Restart Program, is owned and operated by Felicia Maxwell. Previously, Fit4Life served as a full-service fitness warehouse. As the pandemic ramped up and social distancing measures were put into place, Fit4Life had to close its doors.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were full, successful and growing. After the pandemic hit, we were shut down on March 16th and I immediately went into how I’m going to help my clients,” Maxwell says.
Not wanting to leave her clients without any options, within days, Fit4Life went virtual and offered classes outdoors.
“I started the ZOOM classes three days after and started outside classes for my clients,” Maxwell shares.
Seeing an initial 30 percent drop in revenue, Maxwell applied for the restart grant and was awarded the funds within a few months.
Now, seeing a gradual increase in its revenue, the grant also allowed Fit4Life to reopen its doors.
“We’re functioning at about 60 to 65 percent compared to 40 to 45 percent revenue in previous months without having the brick and mortar open. We officially reopened on September 21st,” Maxwell shares.
As Fit4Life has welcomed its clientele back indoors with the help of the grant, it has also allowed the owner to operate safely.
“With the reopening, the grant has been able to help me with my lease expenses, to pay my employees and overhead that was due. It also allowed me to purchase the PPE needed for my clients; masks, the thermometer, wipes; everything needed for them to stay safe,” Maxwell says.
As the restart program funds are dispersed to various small businesses around the city, stimulating Detroit’s economy and customer retention are a key focus for the DEGC.
“COVID-19 has affected the economy across the country in ways we’ve never seen before. Two things businesses need to survive is revenue and customers,” Batton says.
Although there are no concrete plans for future grant programs, the possibility is not completely ruled out. As the pandemic continues to act as the new normal, businesses are adjusting their focus to accommodate its customers.
“We are everyday listening to business owners and partners. It’s hard to say what’s going to be available in the future,” Batton says. “Grant funds are really providing a bridge for small businesses. Especially micro-businesses with less than five employees.”
As for the future economy, a city known for its grit and tenacity, Detroit is sure to bounce back with the help of its community.
“Shop local, shop local, shop local,” Batton urges. “Small Business Saturday is coming up. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Patronize our small businesses.”
For additional help with funding, development, or general inquiry, visit the website for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.