By JESSICA WETZLER
Daily News-Record 7/31/20
When Stacy Rose, owner of Thunderbird Cafe and Hank’s Grille and Catering, was told his businesses were one of the 33 recipients of funding from the Rockingham County Small Business Grant program, the joy in his voice was evident.
“This is great,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to receive this.”
As the owner of two restaurants, Rose saw firsthand the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the food service industry.
For 10 weeks, Thunderbird Cafe was unable to serve customers since its main focal point — breakfast — didn’t appeal well as to-go orders. At Hank’s Grille and Catering, where barbecue and Southern cuisine are served for lunch and dinner, to-go orders were more manageable, but only contributed to 30% to 40% of business.
“In March and April, it was difficult. … We weren’t able to keep a lot of employees,” Rose said. “Once June came, we were better, but sales are still down overall by 40%.”
Rose said he was able to receive funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, but it only covered labor and utilities. Once Rockingham County staff announced they would create a small business grant program, Rose was quick to apply.
The grant program, approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 24, was funded by $500,000 the county received from the CARES Act and will be used to provide funds to support rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, payroll and similar expenses for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To qualify, a business had to be in the retail, hospitality, entertainment, employment and administrative services, or travel- related sectors and have between three and 50 fulltime, on-site employees. Applicants must have gross annual receipts less than $2 million and have experienced a revenue loss of 25% or more due to COVID-19 when compared to average revenue from the past two years.
Businesses with three to 25 full-time employees were eligible to receive a grant of $5,000, while businesses with 26 to 50 full-time employees could receive a grant of $10,000.
The county’s small business grant review team met Tuesday to review the 52 applications that were received by Friday’s deadline. Timothy Hulings, an Economic Development Authority member and volunteer on the review team, said the meeting went well and was an “enjoyable situation.”
When the EDA met Thursday, it reviewed the list of small businesses that were recommended for approval of grant funding and unanimously awarded $175,000 in grants to 33 businesses.
Trish Davidson, director of finance for the county, said checks will be sent out today to businesses that were approved.
For Rose, the funding means he can pay business loans, upgrade outdoor seating at Thunderbird Cafe and Hank’s Grille, make upgrades to take-out software and fund general improvements to the restaurants.
“We can purchase tables, put some sunshades up, get more greenery and section off tables to add more privacy,” Rose said. “By adding seating, we can sit 50 people outside at Thunderbird. We already have five tables at Hank’s, so we can add four to five tables in a different area there.”
For small businesses that missed the deadline to apply, the EDA unanimously requested a second round of grants opened with a few modifications to “widen the net,” said County Administrator Stephen King.
Davidson said changes included a small business to have a minimum of one employee on-site, gross annual receipts of less than $5 million and eliminating the employment and administrative criteria for the service industry to appeal to restaurants and day care centers.
With the change in employee number requirements, businesses with one to 25 full-time employees would be eligible for a grant of $5,000. Businesses with 26 to 50 full-time employees are eligible for a grant of $10,000.
Locally owned franchise businesses are eligible for grants.
Davidson said that if supervisors approve a second round and the criteria changes, staff recommended advertising the second round until Aug. 9 and opening the application period for Aug. 10 to 23. The grant review team would meet on Aug. 25 to review applications, the EDA would meet Aug. 27 to approve recipients and payment would be made on Aug. 28.
Rose said he would encourage other small businesses to apply for the grant program, adding that while some businesses are doing well, the restaurant industry is “not one of those.”