When the novel coronavirus began its global invasion last year, an economic ripple effect rocked the nation, with small local businesses being some of the first to take the blow.
According to Yelp, March 1, 2020 marked the beginning of what they call the ‘business crisis.’ Since then, data shows that restaurants and retail stores have weathered the worst of the crisis.
In the 10 months since the crisis began, 32,109 restaurants and 30,374 retail stores have marked themselves permanently closed on Yelp.
With nowhere else to go for help, many businesses on the verge of collapse turned to crowd sourcing funds through websites like GoFundMe.
In Dane County, government officials are looking to prevent local businesses from needing to take that step.
On Jan. 5, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced a $4 million grant pool for small businesses struggling financially due to COVID-19.
Grants are available in amounts as high as $50,000 and will be targeted specifically at restaurants and retail stores. The funding will be processed through Dane Buy Local.
“Local businesses are pivotal to the overall health of our economy and play a key role in our community’s identity and culture,” Parisi said. “So many of our local businesses are struggling to hang on as we wait for more assistance from the federal government. This $4 million in new funding will help more of our local businesses stay afloat in the months to come.”
To be eligible, businesses must be independently owned local businesses with their main office in Dane County. Funding must be used for COVID-19 related expenses or business development opportunities to save or pivot the business.
Staff at bb Jack’s, a local favorite for pizza in Cottage Grove, say they plan on applying for the grant.
“We’ve been applying for every loan and grant that we can in this situation,” said Tyler Albers, general manager and executive chef at bb Jack’s.
The restaurant first opened its doors in late 2019, just a few months before the virus hit. Albers said this may have had an impact on the restaurant’s ability to garner significant pandemic related funding, as many assistance programs use tax data from 2019 to determine the amount of monetary funds awarded.
Much like other area restaurants, bb Jack’s had to quickly restructure its carry-out model when dine-in was no longer an option. In lieu of using corporate food delivery services such as DoorDash, GrubHub, or Uber Eats, Albers said the restaurant keeps all of its delivery services in-house.
“People know that restaurants are struggling, but it’s important to support them by buying directly through the restaurant,” Albers said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of just how much commission the third party delivery apps take. By ordering delivery from the restaurant itself, you’re going to get better quality, faster service, and the restaurant is going to get their actual fair share of the purchase.”
Alber’s also said bb Jack’s is lucky to have managed to stay afloat for so long, as the economic downturn swept across the local food service industry over the past year.
Other local restaurants were not so lucky. Angelo’s, a local Italian staple of 30 years in Monona, shut down in December after an inability to bounce back financially from a loss in sales related to the pandemic.
Yet, morale remains high at bb Jack’s.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Albers said. “One way or another, we’re going to get through it.”
Local businesses interested in applying for the grant can do so through Dane Buy Local’s website.