Taking Care of Business: Getting small businesses back to business
By Anna Walker
Small businesses in Hyattsville have opportunities to gain assistance through the city’s
COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Grants for Businesses. At the May 4 city council meeting, the mayor and council voted to move forward with plans for a $1 million relief fund for Hyattsville residents and businesses.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund will distribute grants through several channels, including the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (HyCDC), Employ Prince George’s, CASA de Maryland, and the city-administered Pandemic Relief Grants for Businesses program. In funding this program, the city has designated $500,000 to support Hyattsville’s small businesses, working artists and childcare centers through grants of up to $2,500 per quarterly cycle, and is now accepting applications.
Nationally, small businesses have been hit hard as the pandemic has led to whirlwind changes in operations or no operations at all. Hyattsville has not been immune to the economic impact of COVID-19.
“This has been a very challenging time for our community,” said Tracey Nicholson-Douglas, city administrator. “We have all witnessed the toll this catastrophic pandemic has had on families, as well as businesses. Most of our beloved and valued businesses had to close their doors to the public — and with no playbook to follow — are struggling to find ways to sustain during this unprecedented crisis. Some businesses were able to change their business models to retain employees and cover expenses, while others continue to struggle with limited relief.”
Councilmember Carrianna Suiter (Ward 3) commented, “This is an unprecedented crisis, and the city is taking the necessary steps to help mitigate the challenges our community is facing. We know that the federal response isn’t enough to tackle the depths of the economic impacts this pandemic created, so we are providing emergency support to those who need it.”
Love Yoga Studio is one of the businesses that has pivoted to work within this new reality. This popular business is the 2019 awardee of the city’s Economic Development Week Certificate of Recognition for Communal Engagement and Capacity Building, which was presented by Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. Although Love Yoga has been providing virtual classes since March 15, co-owner Asia Vianna Leak noted they have still struggled. “While our membership base has remained fairly secure, we have been impacted by the great reduction in drop-in students and the loss of our youth programs such as Dear Yogi with the Hyattsville Teen Center, Yogi Night Camp, Yogi Spring Break Camp, and general youth classes,” noted Leak.
Longtime Hyattsville staple Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store has adapted its restaurant service. According to owner Mike Franklin, “We’ve moved into carryout and takeout with limited delivery. We’re about at 40% of where we are supposed to be.” Franklin credits loyal neighborhood support for sustainability of the business during this time of significant challenges. Concerning the possibility of receiving grant support through the city, he added, “Funding would help with outdoor service. With everything.”
The HyCDC is a nonprofit that strives to spur economic development and improve the quality of community life while encouraging widespread leadership for community revitalization, according to their website. Through its partnership with the HyCDC, the city will make $300,000 from the relief fund available to support residents with rent, mortgage, utilities and other qualifying expenses.
HyCDC Executive Director Stuart Eisenberg noted the potential impact of these funds and the business grants on the community.
“Since Hyattsville CDC’s constituency is the community-at-large, and our community revitalization and economic well-being are so intertwined with the ability of our community to function at its best, this fund employed, in combination with other social safety net programs — such as unemployment insurance, county emergency rental assistance — will help to mitigate some of the pending outstanding expenses that will be due for some when the state of emergency and socially tempering policies surrounding late rent payments, loan and mortgage debt deferral, suspension of evictions, and consumer debt protections are lifted,” explained Eisenberg.
As Prince George’s County begins the process of emerging from stay-at-home orders, Hyattsville’s small businesses may still face challenges ahead. Leak expressed deep concern, saying, “These stay-at-home orders have caused us to have to seriously consider whether or not we renew our lease. This decision is super gut-wrenching. We are hoping that grant funding will allow us to keep our beloved space, yet are realistic that our virtual studio may be the new normal for quite some time.”
“It’s going to be a tough 18 months,” Franklin observed.
Impacts on small businesses also reverberate throughout the community. “The pandemic caused an economic sinkhole under ‘non-essential’ businesses,” said Eisenberg. He expressed optimism that funding from the city “enables Hyattsville CDC to help our most affected residents to temporarily stand on firmer ground, so they might raise themselves out of the risk pit, when more robust economic activity resumes.”
Nicholson-Douglas offered encouragement, saying, “The fund will be managed by the city staff, which gives an added layer of comfort to applicants as they will have a direct line to our Economic Development Department staff, who remain eager to help. We want to do all we can to support our community and our businesses and help them come back stronger and better than ever.”
Visit www.hyattsville.org/relief-fund for more information. Mayor Candace Hollingsworth continues to offer a weekly call, Mondays at 1 p.m., for Hyattsville business leaders to share community updates and information about federal, state and county business resources. To join, mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Businesses and nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic can visit hyattsville.org/covidbizresources for information about available federal, state, and local grants and loan programs.
Anna Walker is the business columnist for the Hyattsville Life & Times. She also blogs about organization culture on her website thesagerconnection.com.