DNJ Members Step Up with Local Relief Funds to assist businesses during pandemic

Sherry Cronin
Secretary, Downtown NJ

Rachael Thompson Panik
Associate Planner, Mercer Planning Associates

July 21, 2020

We all know that downtown district managers, public officials and economic development professionals have a huge job under normal circumstances, but the pandemic has taken those vital roles to a whole new level. From creating promotional online programs for curbside pickup or delivery, to encouraging the value of shopping locally, to developing plans for reopening, our Downtown NJ members brought their communities closer than ever during this crisis.

In addition to navigating the myriad of federal and state programs available to small businesses, many downtowns have implemented local fundraising efforts to provide direct assistance to the businesses and community members. These relief funds provide much-needed cash or other support to businesses who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Downtown New Jersey wants to celebrate our members’ successes by spotlighting their efforts to support their communities.

The following Downtown New Jersey members have created relief funds to support their community during this time of need:

  • Downtown Denville: The Downtown Denville Relief Fund created by Downtown Denville provides crucial grants for downtown businesses, as well as for additional expenses expected within the downtown for cleaning, maintenance, and events. As of mid-July, the fund has raised nearly $19,000. A separate community-led Denville Strong GoFundMe initiative recently raised over $40,000 to purchase meals and items for frontline workers from local establishments.
  • City of Hoboken & Hoboken Business Alliance: The Hoboken Relief Fund, administered through the Hoboken Rotary Club Foundation, is the City of Hoboken’s official conduit for accepting donations and redistributing relief grants to local businesses and residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund Board includes two council members, five community representatives, a representative of the Hoboken Business Alliance, and a representative of The Rotary Club of Hoboken. As of early July, the fund received $350,000 in pledges and donations.
  • Invest Newark: Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the Newark Economic and Housing Development Department partnered with the United Way of Greater Newark to create the Newark Small Business Emergency Grant Fund. Invest Newark was also a fund partner and provided technical assistance to small businesses applying for this and other federal, state, and local programs. This emergency fund provided working capital grants up to $10,000 to qualifying small businesses. Proceeds of the grant could be utilized for accounts payable, payroll, inventory, equipment, business compliance, licensing renewal, utilities, building capacity, legal, financial services, rent, insurance, business taxes, supplies or most business-related items, as allowable by the funding sources. As of the grant window closure in early May, the fund had distributed 39 grants totaling over $390,000.
  • Ironbound Business Improvement District: In partnership with Newark East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, the Ironbound Community Corporation, and Seabra Foods, the Ironbound Business District created the East Ward COVID-19 Community Relief Fund to help seniors and families that have been hit hardest by the effects of COVID-19. The relief fund provided $100 vouchers to be used at Seabra Foods Supermarkets.
  • Jersey City Economic Development Corporation: Using Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) funding and private donations, Jersey City’s CARES Act Small Business Grant was created to support small businesses. Administered by the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation (JCEDC), the program provides a grant up to $20,000 to for-profit businesses with fewer than 25 employees. Funds can be used for salaries, rent/lease/mortgage, business loans, equipment lease/finance payments, and/or utilities.
  • Kearny UEZ: The Kearny UEZ created a Small Business Relief Loan to provide the necessary capital to small businesses who were unable to submit an application to the Paycheck Protection Program from the SBA. Small businesses can apply for up to $10,000 at a 2% interest rate with a 5-year term and no payment until January 2021. Qualifying businesses must have been open and operating on March 1, 2020 and must have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible uses include payroll, rent, business property mortgage or utilities.
  • Livingston Community Partnership: The BID partnered with the Town of Livingston to create the LuvLiv Local fund to provides grants for businesses to reopen. The grants of up to $1,500, can be used for marketing, website support, on-line ordering platforms or tools, payment platforms for accepting credit cards, shipping/delivery platforms, PPE equipment (i.e., masks, gloves, no-touch thermometers, etc.), equipment to retrofit stores for social distancing, and signage installations.
  • Madison Downtown Development Commission: With support from the Madison Main Street Foundation and the Madison Chamber of Commerce, the Madison Downtown Development Commission created the Small Business Recovery Grant Program to assist small businesses in downtown Madison. The program goal was to raise $200,000 in donations, of which over $190,000 has been raised as of mid-July. The Madison Main Street Foundation matched the first $50,000. An Ad Hoc Grant Steering Committee from the three organizations reviews grant applications, and distributes grants based on need and available funds. Grants can be used for rent, operational costs, marketing, and employee wages.
  • Downtown Metuchen: The Metuchen Downtown Reopening Grant program assists businesses with costs related to reopening in a safe, timely, and effective manner. Eligible expenses include protecting public health, storefronts and signage, online sales, and marketing, and outdoor dining and retail. The BID allocated $50,000 for this program, with maximum awards of $1,250.
  • Middlesex County Economic & Business Development: Using CARES Act CDBG funding, Middlesex County created the CDBG-CV Grant for Small Businesses that provides up to $30,000 for small businesses with 10 or fewer employees with net business income of less than $100,000 that employ low and moderate income people.
  • Newark Downtown District: Beginning in April 2020, the Newark Downtown District created From the Heart, a program delivering fresh meals to people in need. Funds to support these deliveries come from local partners, and food purchased for those in need come from local restaurants in the North Ward who are struggling to recover from impacts of the pandemic. Additional partners included the Mt. Prospect Partnership, the Bloomfield Avenue/Lower Broadway Alliance, the management corporations for the two North Ward BIDs, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Councilman-at-Large Luis Quintana, Wesley Towers, and Forest Hill Community Association. The program benefited more than 400 families in the North Ward and tied together relief efforts with the small business community.
  • New Jersey Economic Development Authority: The NJEDA awarded $50 million in grant funding through two rounds of its Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program. While these funds are expended, the State of NJ and the NJEDA continue to discuss future grant opportunities to support small businesses. At the end of July, the NJEDA will release an application for its expanded Micro Business Loan Program, which will provide financing up to $50,000 for businesses and nonprofits with ten or fewer employees and no greater than $1.5 million in annual revenues. The 10-year loan has no payments for 3 years and a 2% interest rate. For loans under $25,000, there is no collateral requirement. There will be a forgivable piece, and fees are waived.
  • Passaic County: Using CARES Act CDBG funds, Passaic County allocated $10 million to supplement the NJEDA’s Phase 2 Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program. While administered by the NJEDA, the funds are restricted to Passaic County businesses.
  • Perth Amboy Business Improvement District: The City of Perth Amboy created the COVID-19 Perth Amboy Small Business Grant utilizing CARES Act CDBG funds. The program provides grants up to $3,500 to for-profit businesses with 10 or fewer full-time employees that can demonstrate an economic hardship due to COVID-19.
  • Rahway Arts & Business Partnership: The Rahway Arts & Business Partnership and City of Rahway created Rahway CARES, which uses SID funds to provide forgivable loans of up to $5,000 to businesses with 20 or fewer employees that have been impacted by COVID-19. Businesses must be located within the SID boundaries and have been in operation for at least a year to be eligible. The loan is forgiven if the business does not move, sell, or close within two years of approval.
  • Summit Downtown, Inc.: Summit Downtown, Inc. and Summit Mayor Nora Radest, in coordination with the Summit Foundation, launched the Sustain Summit Fund to assist small businesses and their employees. The Summit Foundation provided a 1:1 matching grant for donations up to $50,000 to the Sustain Summit Fund.  Nearly 450 residents and area corporations donated to the fund, which produced $347,000 in grants to 127 businesses.The Sustain Summit Fund’s success inspired an anonymous donor to match what was raised in Sustain Summit and the organization created a new fund called Jumpstart Summit. The new fund is dedicated to assisting local business owners as they reopen or expand operations. The grants will be larger (up to $15,000) and available to businesses with a new application round. In return, the donor is asking recipients to “pay it forward,” if they are able, within 2 years by contributing the grant amount (or as much as they are able) to The Summit Foundation.
  • Trenton Downtown Association: The Trenton Downtown Association (TDA) created a small business grant fund to provide immediate support to business owners in downtown Trenton. The TDA allocated $45,000 to fund the TDA Community Business Grant program that provides up to $3,500 to for-profit, brick-and-mortar businesses with 50 or fewer employee that are located within the SID. The funds can be used for payroll, building rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, marketing expenses, repair of damages, and replacement of equipment.

We hope you will join Downtown New Jersey in thanking our members for efforts to provide financial relief within their communities. To keep up with all the great work our members and downtowns are doing, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

We did our best to capture all of our members’ relief funds. If we missed you, please send information about your program to info@downtownnj.com, and we’ll add it to this article. We also welcome updates from those listed about amount raised and number of stakeholders benefiting from your program.

Sherry Cronin has over 20 years experience in downtown management and revitalization having served as board member and Executive Director of Downtown Westfield Corporation, the management entity for Westfield’s Special Improvement District until August 2019. Sherry currently shares her experience to further the efforts of commercial districts and municipalities as a downtown and non-profit consultant. You can reach Sherry at Sherrycronin157@gmail.com.

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