ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Several industries have been affected because of the corona virus outbreak and that includes small businesses, like the ones that line the streets of downtown Saint Petersburg.
In an effort to help small business owners during this tough time, the city established the Fighting Chance Fund that awards $5,000 to eligible small businesses that have been impacted by the outbreak and $500 to eligible individuals that have been impacted as well.
"This is going to be a long-term recovery, we're going to be looking to fight our way back to pre-COVID levels for quite some time," said Deputy Mayor of St Petersburgh, Dr. Kanika Tomalin.
The fund launched on April 9 and has awarded more than $3 million to date helping more than 400 small businesses in Saint Petersburg alone.
"This pandemic is allowing us to provide our support where it needs it the most. Not only with rhetoric and emotional support, but with the most important of all, financial support that could make all the difference in these businesses being able to continue to thrive or have to close their doors completely," said Tomalin.
Since the launch of the fund, the City of St. Petersburg made the commitment of $6.8 million in funding. They now have half of the amount left to award, according to the Deputy Mayor.
After receiving thousand of applications for round one of funding, the program is now in round two.
The difference in the rounds are seen with the eligibility requirements, that have since expanded the criteria to allow St. Petersburg-based businesses with owners who live outside of the city limits to be eligible for funding. Adding two industry sectors, such as travel agencies and tour operators, and this phase now allows individual businesses that are operating in another business’ space, whether it be a co-working or leasing space directly from another business owner, can apply to for funding.
The Fighting Chance Fund was able to help Jake Walsh and his wife Kylie pay their rent for their boutique in downtown St. Pete and reopen their doors to the public.
"We found out about the program on social media and did some vetting to make sure it wasn't a scam. We applied and got the funding fairly quickly and was able to pay our rent and some of our team. It was extremely helpful," said Walsh.
The couple has been involved in the resale industry since 2010 and decided to join forces and open a brick and mortar for Detox Designer Resale Boutique on 11th Avenue North.
"We've been closed for the full 30 day quarantine and had to get creative to create income. We started posting our inventory on social media, especially Instagram and sold a lot of items that way. It wasn't a lot of revenue but it helped keep us busy and hopeful for the day we could reopen," said Walsh.
In the same regard, Blush Tea and Coffee on Dr. M.L.K. Jr. St N, in Saint Pete, was able to keep the lights on thanks to the city's generous funding.
"I was fortunate that I didn't have to let any of my team members go. Some of my staff members gave each other shifts because they had a safety net and didn't need it as much as others," said Lori Bishop, owner of Blush Tea and Coffee.
Bishop opened the coffee shop last Summer and before the pandemic could serve 70 people on average in a single day.
"A lot has changed and we are following the guidelines so everyone is safe. Right now we are only doing curbside and no-contact orders. We will transition into letting people inside with the social distancing, but want to take things a day at a time," said Bishop.
With hundreds of businesses funded and more awaiting approval, city officials say their efforts are far from over.
"We started this fund when all of this started happening. Our first thought was how do we help the business owners, the people who make our community thrive and feel like home? We put our resources together. We have a team of people from several departments overseeing the applications, its a team effort and we plan to have this fund in place as long as we can," said Tomalin.
Business owners who applied during the first round of the Fighting Chance Fund and were denied are being asked to re-apply to the program for round two.
If there is already an application in the queue that hasn’t been processed, no action is needed at this time.
Businesses and individuals interested in the program can apply to the Fighting Chance Fund here.
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