MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Many small businesses are struggling to survive the pandemic, and are relying on government. And Montgomery County is stepping up to help save them.
The county's council members and executive leadership launched a $20 million Public Health Emergency Grant program Wednesday for businesses and nonprofits with 100 employees or less.
Robyn Rutland plans to apply for one. She has owned Tot Swap Consignment (an event-based consignment sale) for 15 years and just opened Hammer and Stain (a paint and stip studio) in Rockville in 2018. Both rely on groups of people coming together — which are now banned.
"Tot Swap 100% cut off at the knees. That was our bread and butter," Rutland said. "That was our main source of income, because it’s a fairground, and it’s based on events … where typically we bring 1,000 people, and we can’t do that now."
She said they also had to close the doors of Hammer and Stain, but are trying to get by with "take-and-make" kits for customers to pick up. These small businesses are her family's entire source of income.
“It’s definitely been scary," she said.
Montgomery County has allocated $20 million to fund small business grants. According to the county, each business can apply for a grant of up to $75,000 apiece.
County Executive Marc Elrich said they will begin giving out $10,000 grants as they work to evaluate larger requests.
“That’s not a lot of businesses when you think about having massively more than 30,000 small businesses in our borders, so we were trying to spread the money as far as we could," Elrich said.
The county website says previously applying for federal or state relief does not preclude owners from receiving a county grant, too, so business owners still can apply. The caveat is that the money should be put toward different uses, said the county.
The program website says 25% of the fund is being reserved for restaurants and small retail stores. The grants are supposed to be used to help cover rent, payroll or other operating losses.
That's where Rutland plans to spend a grant.
“Right now I’m mostly concerned about rent at our space in Rockville town square," she said. "I can’t have people in the door, but I don’t want to lose the space.”
Heather Galladora is applying for a grant to be able to pay her employees. She owns Fit4Mom Montgomery County and employs 33 women, who help run the fitness classes. She, too, had to shut her doors when the pandemic hit.
“It’s hard to figure out, what do you do when you don’t have the revenue, but you still have the bills?" Galladora said. "You still have people on your team who you’re no longer able to really support. My family alone is used to having two incomes, and we now only have my husband’s. I'm not paying myself.”
Both Galladora and Rutland said every little bit helps as they work to keep their businesses alive.
“I’m just trying to take it day by day, because it’s only been a month, but that month feels like it's taken years," Rutland said.
You can find answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the program here.