When coffee shop owner Trez Pugh III got the call, he said: “Please don’t be kidding.”
Reassured he had indeed won a Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant to complete renovation of a Bronzeville storefront, where he intends to open a fourth location of his Sip & Savor coffee shops, his response changed to: “Awesome! Exciting!”
It was a typical response for many of the 32 small-business owners who in the last week learned their proposal had been selected to receive a total of about $3 million in grants from the fund that is intended to jump-start business investment in struggling communities.
First-round recipients were selected from more than 700 applications.
“I’m going to use most of it for the build-out of the new location, equipment and inventory, and providing training of the new employees I plan on hiring from the community,” Pugh said.
He will employ about 20 people once the location at 78 E. 47th St. opens. His three other shops are in the South Loop, Hyde Park and Beverly. Pugh describes his businesses as “where coffee and community meet, modern day ‘Cheers’ without the libations.”
The fund is generated from voluntary payments by downtown developers in exchange for zoning density accommodations. It supports neighborhood businesses seeking help with property acquisition and rehab, hiring, small business training, etc., covering up to 65 percent of the cost of a project.
“We have always wanted to create a beautiful garden that will be a beacon in our community,” said Frances Guichard, co-owner of Gallery Guichard in Bronzeville, which is using its grant to acquire and turn nearby vacant land into a sculpture garden.
“We’re excited. The title of our project is the ‘Migration Garden,’ ” Guichard said.
The gallery, which she runs with her husband, is an anchor in the fairly new Bronzeville Artists Lofts development at 436 E 47th St. Their sculpture garden is planned for adjacent land at 446-50 E. 47th St.
“We work with artists from all over the world, and in this case, we’re working with an artist, Shala, who is going to create a sculpture made of solar panels that will provide lighting for the garden,” Guichard said. “It will be a place for the community to come and experience rotating outdoor sculpture. It will imbue a sense of community and pride.”
Proposals were judged on factors such as project feasibility, ability to have a “measurable, catalytic impact” on a community or commercial corridor, and whether there were similar goods or services in the neighborhood.
Rhodel Castillo, a Belizean immigrant who has operated Garifuna Flava Caribbean Restaurant in Chicago Lawn for nine years, got the news in a call from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“I just kept saying, ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much!’ ” the restaurateur said. “We just made nine years on June 1st!”
Though rough going in a struggling neighborhood, Castillo has persevered. His wife is the chef; his son, the manager. He applied for the grant to expand his kitchen, reconfigure the restaurant’s interior, and renovate the parking lot and exterior of the building at 2516-18 W. 63rd St.
“Many of our communities need some kind of a jumpstart in terms of the physical appearance of our businesses. This gives my community an opportunity to showcase something different,” he said. “I’m excited at the opportunity to expand and hire more local residents. We hope it will be a catalyst for other neighborhood improvements, businesses.”
A complete list of projects is available at Mayor Emanuel’sNeighborhood Opportunity Fund.