Albany County to small businesses: 'Help is on the way’

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
“Shop Small” says Mandy Young’s pin as she mends a belt at the Delmar Bootery in Guilderland’s Stuyvesant Plaza on Wednesday. Young’s mother, Gail Sundling, said three generations of women have run the shop, which lost 30 percent of its business this year due to the pandemic. That would make the shop eligible to apply for a new Albany County grant program.

ALBANY COUNTY — The county is throwing a lifeline to small businesses trying to stay afloat in the midst of the pandemic.

A new grant program was announced on Wednesday morning — funded for $500,000 — that will give up to $5,000 to businesses that qualify.

“The main purpose of these grants was to insure that small businesses were being taken care of,” said Wanda Willingham who chaired a  COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force that was formed this summer. She said the grants are also to provide jobs for people in the community.

This fall, Willingham had told The Enterprise that the pandemic has brought into stark relief the inequity in communities across the county.

She has represented Albany’s Arbor Hill, District 3, since 1999; she’s the legislature’s deputy chair and a founding member of its Black Caucus.

Matthew Peter, a Democratic legislator representing District 5 in Albany, was also on the committee along with Jeff Perlee, the sole Republican on the committee and the only one representing a rural area. His District 31 includes Altamont and Guilderland Center as well as part of the Hilltowns.

Wednesday’s announcement of the grants had started with Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy giving sobering statistics on the recent losses in sales-tax revenues, which the county shares with towns and villages.

This November compared to last November saw a 9.1-percent drop, a loss of $2,1 million, McCoy said.

The loss for the entire year up to November, he said, compared to last year, was roughly $21.5 million, a drop of 8.4 percent in revenues.

 

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
Sandra Dollard, owner at Evoke Style in Stuyvesant Plaza, says her 2020 sales are down about 51 percent compared to the previous year. Her loyal clientele, focused on well-fitted and one-of-a-kind apparel, are what's kept her going, Dollard said.

 

“When our small businesses suffer, the entire community suffers because loss of sales-tax revenue means we have less funding for critical programs, services that our residents rely on every day,” said McCoy.

“Despite the grim reporting today,” said Andrew Joyce, who chairs the county legislature, “the message to small businesses is that help is on the way.”

The county is working with the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region. 

It’s director, Linda MacFarlane, said, “We know that small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by COVID and funding for small businesses, particularly minority-owned businesses, was not equitable.”

Some small businesses didn’t know how to fill out applications for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, she said, “or they didn’t have a good relationship with a bank to be able to apply for some of this funding.”

She added, “They need grants in order to survive.”

Applications will be available online at the Community Loan Fund website, starting Monday, Jan. 4; they must be submitted by Jan. 19.

Businesses that want to fill out a paper application instead may pick one up from the Community Loan Fund’s lobby at 255 Orange St. in Albany.

“We are providing training and technical assistance free of charge not only through the application process but also afterwards,” said MacFarlane.

Her organization has developed a series of free virtual workshops on surviving COVID and also offers one-on-one counseling over the phone or through video conferencing, MacFarlane said.

“This is the largest grant program we’ve been involved in,” she said.

A similar program for the city of Schenectady, she said, had applicants that included restaurants, dance and yoga studios, manufacturers, and construction businesses. “It was across the board,” she said.

The Albany County Legislature on Dec. 7 had initially approved $300,000 for the grant program with another $100,000 in the 2021 county budget. On Dec. 21, the legislature approved another $200,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be a sales-tax-generating for-profit business in Albany County, with no more than 50 employees. The business must also show that its revenue has decreased by at least 25 percent due to COVID-19 and how the current COVID-19 economic conditions make the grant request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the business.

The grant money — it does not have to be repaid — can be used for up to two months of back rent, up to two weeks of perishable goods, or expenses related to retrofitting the business for COVID-19 such as personal protective equipment, contactless purchasing, and online ordering services.

The program will be administered by the Advanced Albany County Alliance LDC, which was formed in November, through a partnership with the Community Loan Fund. The applications will be ranked by priority and then scored to determine recipients.

The first awards are expected to be distributed in February, MacFarlane said.

“If it’s possible to dedicate more resources in the future, we’re going to do it,” said Joyce.

He also said, “We wanted to keep politics out of the process. This grant funding is going to be based on need and merit, not based off who you know.”

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