Financial boost

Small businesses wallopped by the caronavirus pandemic’s effects on the economy are struggling to meet new health-related guidelines as they reopen.

Those efforts cost money in a time when many restaurants, retailers and offices are able to ratchet up only at half-strength.

Although some businesses have received help from federal and state programs, a gap between revenue and expenses makes a reopening difficult.

A new entity has stepped up to help fill that need.

The nonprofit Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund was started by Philadelphia real estate developer Jeff Bartos and partners earlier this spring. It pulls donations from some businesses and then distributes them as forgivable $3,000 bridge loans to other businesses.

There are three stipulations for recipients: the business must employ three to 30 people, be based in Pennsylvania for at least a year and be owned and operated by a Pennsylvania resident.

Local grants received

The business-to-business largesse has helped two private enterprises in Venango County.

Susan Williams, executive director of the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce, said a meeting last week with other chamber directors from across the state provided information about the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund. She said the discussion included a plea “to get the word out about this fund.”

“I contacted several of our local businesses and said, ‘hey, take a look at this’ and several did,” said Williams. “Two of them have received the money and a few others are exploring it. It’s businesses helping business with private money and no red tape.”

“The $3,000 loans are forgivable. The fund does not expect them to be repaid. Instead, the emphasis is to pay it forward, maybe add to the fund later, if you can.”

In encouraging local businesses to apply for the $3,000, two local business owners quickly stepped up and asked Williams for more information.

“These two ladies – Jami DeGroat and Kyla Parkinson – told me they were in for the long haul. I know them and they have done everything right to keep their people working,” said Williams. “And they received the funds.”

‘Nothing to sneeze at’

DeGroat, owner of Casey’s Restaurant and Lounge on Oil City’s North Seneca Street, said she had not expected to receive the money.

“I thought it would be like everything else – they would run out of money before they got to us,” said DeGroat. “It certainly helps – we were trying to do some remodeling and we had to hire an extra cleaning company because of the new rules.”

While the $3,000 stipend is not a huge financial assist, it is essential to help defray costs in a time of limited revenue, said the restaurant owner.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at and it will definitely do some good. People are coming back to Casey’s, and while we are not yet where we need to be at still only 50%, I’m not complaining. The town has been extremely good to us through all this.”

‘This helps a lot’

Parkinson owns and operates the Victorian City Art and Frame business on Liberty Street in Franklin. The pandemic and related health directives forced the closure of her gallery and shop for weeks.

“I didn’t expect to get this. I never received a grant before but I felt just pure joy in getting it,” said Parkinson. “Tuesday was challenging, business-wise, and to end the day hearing I got it was wonderful.”

Parkinson said the many required changes associated with reopening are extensive as well as expensive. A few of those chores include providing ample customer space inside the business, converting electronics to offer more communication options for customers and more.

“I’m rolling with everything and I’m trying to run the business as best I can,” she said. “Being closed for so long was hard so this grant will help with the rent as well as allow me to bring my full-time employee back. This helps a lot.”

‘We’ll help you’

Williams said the chamber will help small businesses eyeing the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund for assistance.

“This is not nonprofits and the government saving the day for small businesses. This is businesses saving businesses. It will help them get through the next 30 days and is focused on small businesses that are active in the community, working hard and just need a little boost,” said Williams.

“Call us. We’ll help you apply for this.”

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