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With applications due for $4M next round, 10 Capitol Hill and Central District $10K Seattle small business relief fund grantees weigh in

If you own one of the 9,000 Seattle businesses that applied for a $10,000 city grant early on in the pandemic but weren’t chosen during the first three rounds, there may be hope once again.

Seattle’s Small Business Stabilization Fund, rolled out in March, has now been revitalized as part of the City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan joint $5.5 million COVID-19 small business relief package passed in August. Of the businesses selected in this upcoming round, at least two thirds must have five employees or less and identify as “high risk of displacement or highly disadvantaged.”

So far, 469 businesses have received grants through this fund and over 60 of them are in District 3 neighborhoods including Capitol Hill and the Central District. The application period for this next round closes on Monday. You can learn more here.

For some Capitol Hill and Central District businesses, the grant was a necessary part of staying afloat during a time when federal and other sources of funding weren’t panning out. For others, it’s just one part of a larger effort to withstand the ongoing pandemic, especially in light of recently  tightened COVID restrictions.

  • SugarPill: The Pine and Broadway apothecary was one of the first businesses to receive a city grant. Owner Karyn Schwartz says it was the first type of governmental funding SugarPill received, coming through at a much needed time when invoices from the previous holiday season were piling up along with rent and payroll. “Without that grant, SugarPill would quite possibly have not survived,” she said. “It was a godsend in the early days of the pandemic.” Situated just down the block from 11th and Pine, she says the grant carried SugarPill through six straight weeks of near total closure as limited capacity shopping and curbside pickup were halted during this summer’s Capitol Hill protest zone. “It provided me, most importantly, with a little extra time to think about my next move, and to do the horrific work of applying for every other kind of assistance with a slightly less paralyzing sense of panic,” Schwartz said.
  • Atulea: Kathy Wang and Vince Shi, owners of the 12th Ave matcha, milk and cheese tea shop, echo the importance of the grant in helping cover rent and supply costs. Their shop received funding in the city’s third round, and Wang says that obtaining the grant through direct deposit was a relatively straightforward process. “The funding was definitely a great help to keep our business running,” she said.
  • Teriyaki and Wok: For longtime Broadway teriyaki spot, business partner Len Harris says the funding is “definitely a shot in the arm, but it’s not a magic band aid.” Much of the restaurant’s grant went toward transitional expenses as it went from a largely sit-down business to a more COVID-friendly model. This involved purchasing PPE, adopting a grab-and-go format and ramping up the eatery’s online ordering system. “When you’re making that kind of dramatic change you’re going to have additional expenses,” he said. “We were able to do that and we did not lay off any of our staff.”
  • Seattle Massage Pro: Although allowed to remain partially open throughout the pandemic as a healthcare service, owner Amber Myers says the E Madison massage therapy clinic closed for ten weeks in the spring as business became stifled. Receiving a grant in the second round was a relatively quick and efficient process, she said, and brought some needed payroll relief. “I don’t think I can even explain the roller coaster of this past year,” Myers said. “But thinking that you have to close permanently, something you’ve worked like ten years on, and then all of a sudden having one little tiny glimmer of hope — it was amazing so I’m super grateful.”
  • Greenfire Loft: Melrose Market’s multi-purpose retail and event space hasn’t been able to continue standard programming given the challenges posed by social distancing in the 283-square-foot loft. Product developer Jen Loewen says the $10,000 grant lasted about five months and helped cover rent and overhead fees. “The philosophy of my company is eco-friendly, multi-purpose products,” she said. “I’m trying to make that space as multi-purpose as possible as well. But of course that’s become very limited.” She has, however, been able to put the space to some use throughout the pandemic by renting it out as a private dining venue for guests to bring in food from one of the nearby restaurants. “My retail space is for the most part a very expensive storage unit right now in a prime location,” she said.
  • Sal’s Barbershop: For the Pike and Boylston barbershop of 15 years, receiving the grant in the third round was helpful but came later than co-owner Phill Gladstone would have wanted. He says it took months to get approved after applying for a grant when the program first opened in March. Him and his business partners relied on savings to cover rent during their spring closure, which were replenished when the grant funding came through in July. “I do think the grant helped,” he said. “But I don’t think the state, or the city more specifically, was doing enough to at least reach out — give us a call, give us an email, give us something to communicate the needs of our shop.”
  • Sugarlump: E Madison’s maternity and children’s consignment boutique owner Malia Martin says the grant had a “massive” impact and helped her pay rent and consignors for three months while the shop was temporarily closed. “It was a bleak future and then ‘oh my gosh 10,000 will pay the rent,’ ” she said. Meanwhile, she redeveloped Sugarlump’s website and began selling pieces through Instagram to reach a local and nationwide audience.
  • Ras Dashen: For Bogalech Tessema, owner of longtime E Cherry Ethiopian restaurant, the grant has been quite helpful. It went toward paying the restaurant’s monthly lease and property tax, as it transitioned from primarily in-person dining to take out after being closed for six weeks in the spring. “Still we’re not out of the woods yet but we managed to at least keep up paying the lease month to month,” Tessema said. He also says the restaurant has not yet been successful in getting funding as part of the federal government’s Payment Protection Program.
  • Tacos Guaymas: Broadway’s Mexican eatery was approved for funding in round three of the city grant program and manager Josue Morales says it was helpful for paying rent, employees and covering other expenses. “Business for us now is going down so bad,” he said. “We had to let people go because we can’t afford them right now.” He wishes the city could offer more funding and support.
  • Neil Stephens GET FIT: Personal trainer and boxer Neil Stephens, who ran his business out of Bellevue Ave’s Urban Kinetics gym also says the grant was helpful as he “got totally taken out of business overnight” when pandemic restrictions were introduced in March. The grant covered what he would expect to make in two months of running his training business.  “It was helpful, thanks very much to Seattle,” he said. “But the lockdown’s lasted a lot longer than the money.”

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