By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership announced on July 30 the names of the 303 Alexandria businesses that will receive a portion of its $3.495 million in “back to business” grants.
The businesses ranged from small fitness studios and dry cleaners to some of the city’s most notable restaurants and live music venues. The Alexandria Times also received a grant from the program. For a full list of ALX B2B grant recipients, go to https://bit.ly/2Dv9lxp.
The ALX B2B COVID-19 grant program is the result of a concerted effort by both the city and AEDP to find a source of financial relief for local businesses suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of AEDP, said.
When the pandemic first hit Alexandria in March, city council charged city staff, City Manager Mark Jinks and AEDP, a public-private partnership that aims to promote Alexandria’s economy and business community, with formulating a proposal for a business relief program.
What AEDP and the city found was that although businesses had had access to some financial relief through the federal government in the form of the paycheck protection program, there was one notable “gap” in funding opportunities, Landrum said.
“As businesses started to be hopeful about reopening and rescaling, … they were going to have to make a good number of investments, and they weren’t going to have the capital and the cash to do that after months of frankly limited sales,” Landrum said.
AEDP and city staff proposed the ALX B2B grants program, which would allow businesses to pay for those expenses using a combination of funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and AEDP. Of the $14 million in CARES Act funding that the city received from the state, the city allocated $2.4 million to the grants program. AEDP then identified another $2 million that the city had available for incentive deals and added that to the funding pool for the program, Landrum said.
With about $4.4 million in grants available in the program, AEDP and the city put out a call to businesses. Applicants who were approved for the program had to sign a performance agreement with AEDP that requires them to report how they spent the grant money over the course of six months.
In total, AEDP received 353 grant applications, of which 307 businesses successfully qualified for funding, according to a news release. Four businesses declined the grant. The remaining 46 businesses were ineligible for funding.
Businesses received grants of $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 based on the size of their staff.
While the vast majority of grant recipients are using the money on personal protective equipment for staff, rent or alterations to their spaces, Landrum has been impressed, if not surprised, by the creativity of the city’s businesses, she said.
Some businesses are taking full advantage of the relaxed regulations for outdoor seating.
Port City Brewing Company, which received a $20,000 grant, is restructuring its entire tasting room around outdoor seating with tents set up in the company’s parking lot.
Port City, like a lot of businesses, is also using the grant funds to adapt to the virtual, online-focused “new normal.” Port City is investing in a completely contactless point of sale system that will allow customers to order and pay for food and drink without having to interact with staff.
“When customers come in, they won’t order from our team members,” Port City Founder Bill Butcher said. “There’ll be a QR code on their table that they’ll scan with their own phone, on their own device, and that’ll bring up our menu. They can order through that app, and we’ll take payment through that as well.”
Crossfit MVA in Del Ray is investing in virtual coaching equipment and Food Tour Corporation in Old Town is using part of its grant funding to develop virtual cooking classes. Pacers Running in Old Town is even using part of its $15,000 grant on software and hardware for virtual visits and virtual road races.
Rooftop Chimney Sweeps is investing heavily in marketing and educational materials for its new virtual assessments, President Dylan Raycroft said.
“The ability to … invest time in creating ways of educating clients about that so that we can all be on the same page and work effectively together and have confidence that we’re going to be doing a good job and doing it safely in this brave new world that we live in is a really big deal,” Raycroft said.
The grants have allowed businesses like Rooftop Chimney Sweeps to invest in the future, something not many businesses have had the luxury of thinking about during the pandemic.
“We would have been so cash strapped that we would not have been able to make these kinds of investments to set ourselves up for next year,” Raycroft said.
AEDP ultimately ended up giving out about $3.495 million in grants, leaving some money on the table for a second round of funding.
“We are finalizing a proposal right now to take back to council and the city manager for a round two that would expand eligibility and allow a second set of businesses to come forth with applications,” Landrum said.
On July 27, the city announced it would be receiving a second tranche of around $13.9 million in CARES Act funding. The city is still determining how it will dedicate that money, but AEDP plans to request another $2.4 million for the program, Landrum said.
In the second round, Landrum hopes to reach a more diverse range of businessowners, something AEDP found challenging during the first round of grant funding. Of the 307 eligible applicants in the first round, 148 were white, 67 were Asian, 27 were Hispanic or Latino, 20 were Black and 48 did not answer or disclose that information, according to data released by AEDP.
“Over recent weeks, we’ve been talking with more groups that aren’t even business focused but are more just community focused,” Landrum said. “Our intent for round two is to use them as ambassadors to help us get the word out.”
Getting the word out about the program and reaching businesses that need help is key for the program’s success. Over the 15 years Landrum has worked at AEDP, no program has been more personally fulfilling for her team as this one, she said.
“The restaurant that we go to, the dry cleaner that we use, where I get my hair done – these are personal things for us because we all live in Alexandria or spend the ma- jority of our waking hours there,” Landrum said. “… We’re hearing a lot of their personal stories and that has made it really rewarding.”