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Grants arrive for nearly 1,000 Chicago microbusinesses

Small shops get $5,000 each to help them survive pandemic.

Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
Provided

City officials said Thursday they have awarded $5,000 grants to 959 microbusinesses in dire straits because of the shutdown caused by attempts to control the coronavirus.

It’s unknown how many of the businesses will survive, but officials said they hope the grants will help the smallest of small businesses in low- to moderate-income communities.

“These are businesses that don’t have a lot of options for help,” said Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “They are sole proprietors or they hire one or two people from down the block.”

One of the grant recipients, William Ball, owner of Abundance Bakery, 105 E. 47th St., said he’s struggling with how to reopen his 650-square-foot store. “We need to catch up on bills. My credit rating is going down the tubes. Thirty years, 650 square feet — it’s my life,” he said.

Ball said he’s waiting on word from other grants and loans he has applied for, but believes larger operators are in line ahead of him. “The government has to make some corrections in our community,” he said. “They have driven all the blue-collar jobs overseas. That’s why we have a high rate of crime. There’s just no opportunity.”

The grantees were selected by lottery from more than 4,500 applications, Escareno said. With help from five community organizations, the city vetted and picked recipients a week after the application period closed for the Microbusiness Recovery Grant Program. Escareno said all recipients will have the money in hand by Friday.

Money for the program came from the Chicago Community Trust, which continues to raise money for COVID-19 relief. Escareno said demand was so high, the grant program may be reopened to consider more applicants.

“From family-owned coffee shops to mom-and-pop retail stores, our microbusinesses are the beating heart of our communities and local economy,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “With the Microbusiness Recovery Grant Program, we are putting much-needed relief into the hands of nearly 1,000 of Chicago’s most-impacted local entrepreneurs so that we can reinvigorate communities on our road to recovery.”

Officials said that more than two-thirds of grantees reported in a survey that they have not received other emergency funding. To be eligible, businesses must have had four or fewer employees, annual revenue of less than $250,000 and be located within a low- or moderate-income community area.

More than 90% of the recipients were businesses headed by women, African Americans or Latinos, city officials said. On average, businesses getting the grants have been open for more than 10 years, they said.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) called the grants a “critical lifeline” to local businesses. “In less than two weeks, the city established a first-of-its-kind emergency grant program and is now putting those relief funds directly into the hands of our community entrepreneurs,” Mitts said.

The program is in addition to loans available under the city’s $100 million Small Business Resiliency Fund. Officials said the resiliency fund has approved 316 loans for nearly $12 million, with another 268 loans totaling $9.5 million in the final stages of underwriting.