Until mid-March, Lori Reese felt optimistic about her small, growing Harrisburg-based business.
Then COVID hit.
As a professional personal organizer, Reese could no longer meet with her clients, much less visit with them to help get their houses, businesses and lives in order.
So, she was excited when she read about the Neighborhood Business Stabilization Program, a $1 million-plus pool of money funded by the city of Harrisburg and Impact Harrisburg, a nonprofit set up to help spur economic activity in the city.
“I’ve had a drop in business obviously because a lot of what I do is hands-on, face-to-face work with clients,” said Reese, owner of Consider It Done LLC, who runs her business from her home office in the city’s Riverside neighborhood. “When I saw the news (about the program), I thought, ‘Wow, this a great opportunity.”
She quickly applied and just learned that she received a $5,000 grant from the program, which, she said, will help her weather the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Reese was one of 313 city-licensed businesses to receive $5,000 grants from the program’s first funding round.
According to Sheila Dow Ford, executive director of Impact Harrisburg, all qualified businesses that applied received $5,000 grants.
“We wanted to fund as many businesses as we possibly could across the broad spectrum,” she said, during a virtual press conference today. “So we are hoping we hit the mark in that regard.”
She added that Impact Harrisburg still has to notify some recipients, so applicants who haven’t heard yet “shouldn’t be discouraged.”
The program allowed businesses to request up to $10,000, but, given the large number of applicants, Impact Harrisburg decided to give across-the-board $5,000 grants to all qualified applicants.
Even that exceeded the initial $1 million fund, so Impact Harrisburg kicked in another $750,000. Tonight, Harrisburg City Council is expected to vote to contribute an additional $500,000, which would bring the total fund to $2.25 million.
The city’s $1 million share originates from two sources. The first $500,000 came from its revolving loan fund, a dormant program started under former Mayor Steve Reed that once leant money to city-based businesses. The second $500,000, if approved by council, originates from federal funding the city will receive as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that, with the additional money, a second funding round will be opened to encourage more applicants.
“Our goal is to keep these businesses afloat so, when it is time to reopen, they have a fighting chance of surviving and bouncing back, hopefully stronger than ever,” he said.
To illustrate the community impact, today’s virtual press conference featured three small business owners who received grants: Andrea Grove of Elementary Coffee Co., Angel Fox of Fox’s Wash and Go and Hector Ortiz of Roots of My Land, an Ecuadoran restaurant.
Fox said that the grant will allow her to repair washing machines in her Allison Hill laundromat, as customers have been “over-stuffing” the machines to try to stretch their own limited financial resources.
Grove said that, beyond the money, she appreciated that care was taken to distribute the grants to all deserving, qualified applicants.
“What has been so beautiful about this grant program is that everybody I know got this,” she said. “We desperately need this money, but so many other people need it as well. That is a beautiful testament to the care that this community has for each individual business and the position that they are in.”
For Reese, the money will help her sustain her business, but will also help offset additional costs brought on the crisis. Like many companies, she’s been forced to do more business online, which has meant extra, unanticipated costs to expand her virtual presence, capabilities and security.
Reese also mentioned a non-financial benefit of the program. Much like Grove, she said that she appreciates the effort, caring and the creativity that her city and Impact Harrisburg showed for the small business community here.
“I feel valued as a city business and a city resident,” she said. “Because it’s local, it means more to me.”
For more information about the Neighborhood Business Stabilization program, visit the Impact Harrisburg website.