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Small Businesses Reach Out To Cities, Counties For Pandemic Aid

A motorist drives through Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood on Monday. More than two dozen businesses in the area have applied for pandemic aid from the city, according to Councilman Matt Zone. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Cleveland's Gordon Square on a rainy spring day.

For 30 years, Cleveland screen printing company Nightsweats & T-cells has been turning out merchandise and art to support people living with HIV.

They print t-shirts and other items for events and fundraisers, particularly in the theater industry. Pandemic-driven event cancellations and theater shutdowns have thrown business into uncertainty, Gilbert Kudrin, who runs the operation, told ideastream.

For instance, Nightsweats & T-cells ships goods to New York and around the United States for the nonprofit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, he said.

“We ship to Broadway shows that are traveling around the country, or have a semi-permanent home in either Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas,” Kudrin said. “So when they closed down Broadway, a great deal of our business just ceased to exist.”

As small businesses begin reopening in Ohio and around the country, owners are reaching out for lifelines to make up for months of lost revenue. Local governments are trying to help, rallying private support and spending precious federal coronavirus aid funding to keep local companies alive.

Nightsweats & T-cells sought help from many sources, Kudrin said, applying for the federal Paycheck Protection Program and emergency aid from the City of Cleveland.

Kudrin is still waiting to learn whether Cleveland will send money, but the company received about $2,500 from Cuyahoga County’s business stabilization fund this month.

“I mean, it’s helpful,” Kudrin said. “It pays the light bills. We have a mortgage. We’re very fiscally sound, but when you have no income coming in, no work, it’s hard to be fiscally sound.”

Cuyahoga County has pledged around $6 million to stabilize small businesses, drawing on private funds and CARES Act dollars.

Even as they spend to help businesses, local government leaders want permission from Congress to use federal aid to shore up their own budgets, too. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said he’s not waiting around to spend his county’s $215 million coronavirus aid allotment.  

“We’re not sitting on the money,” Budish said. “We got to get it out. People need the help today. They don’t need it tomorrow, they need it today. And we’ve been operating with a sense of urgency.”

But resources are limited. More than 3,000 businesses applied for financial help from Cuyahoga County. Only 200 won funding in the first round. The county just closed applications for a second round of assistance.

Businesses Gird For Longer-Term Costs

Summit County cobbled together $1.5 million from various sources to help 311 small businesses. For the next wave of business aid, the county plans to spend $5 million from its $94 million in CARES Act funding.

The county grant gave some breathing room to Leia’ Love Hair & Nail Salon in Fairlawn. The salon’s employees have been laid off and expenses have been eating away at reserves, owner Leia’ Love said.

“We ended up having to go into our emergency fund, which is good, that’s what it’s there for,” Love said. “But we quickly depleted that.”

The Summit County grant will help Love pay for rent, utilities and personal protective equipment for her workers, she said.

She’s planning to reopen the salon June 2 in a very different world from the one she was operating in before. Customers and workers will need their temperatures taken, and they’ll go home if they have fevers, Love said. Plexiglass barriers will protect nail technicians and customers, she said.

“All of the protective equipment is a huge expense,” Love said. “Some salons that I’ve even talked to, they’re not going to be able to open because of that.”

Love is trying to stay positive. The past couple of months have been like a “monsoon,” she said, but she hopes to come out stronger than before.

Companies may not be out of the storm just yet.

The economy may not fully recover until the public is confident coronavirus has been dealt with, according to Greater Akron Chamber CEO Steve Millard. Businesses have told his organization that it may take until the end of the year to start seeing real improvements, he said.

“Until we can give people assurances that they’re going to be as safe as possible in this environment, you’re not going to see commerce turn back on,” Millard said. “So I think this all goes back to the health side of this.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.