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Detroit small businesses are getting help but still need our support

Sep 23, 2020

To date, DEGC has administered two COVID-19 financial relief programs to help Detroit small businesses stay solvent during the pandemic. The first program provided a total of $4 million to more than 730 Detroit businesses between April and June.

The second, the Michigan Small Business Restart Program (MSBRP), will award over $7 million to business owners in grants of up to $20,000. DEGC anticipates more than 900 businesses will receive financial assistance from this program, with at least 70 percent of the total funds going to women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses.

What is the impact of an $11 million injection into Detroit’s small business ecosystem? The answer depends on who you ask.

For some businesses, the money is simply not enough. Too many of Detroit’s small businesses have already closed permanently, unable to survive the crisis.

In some instances the grants are sustaining businesses, and even allowing them to grow. Skin Bar VII, which opened late last year on the Avenue of Fashion with the help of a Motor City Match (MCM) grant, was just hitting its stride when the crisis hit. This business received funding from both relief programs, and today is operating online and in-person with newly implemented cleaning and health and safety regulations. With increased customer traffic, Skin Bar VII is looking to hire employees as they adjust to the new normal.

Other businesses are also gaining momentum during these uncertain times.

  • Terri’s Cakes, a MCM Round 14 recipient of $75,000, is booked with customer orders through the middle of October. Owner Garnett Conerway is committed to shifting her home business to a brick-and-mortar store at 16311 E. Warren Ave.
  • Source Booksellers on Cass Ave. received grants from DEGC, TechTown and the Book Industry Charity Foundation. Owner Janet Webster Jones moved quickly to online ordering and social media advertising, and as a result, is increasing the store’s reach as well as local sales.
  • Lush Yummies Pie Co. moved into a new production space in the Eastern Market Business Accelerator this summer. A MCM grant paid for new equipment, and celebrities such as Lena Waithe, Lance Gross and Oprah Winfrey have helped with publicity. Today, wholesale accounts are growing, and online sales are up. Grants from both COVID relief programs are helping Lush Yummies Pie scale and hire more employees.

Business owners tell us that while grants are part of the solution, they are not the panacea for an extended economic crisis. That’s why it’s so important for public and private partnerships to provide holistic solutions that will address both immediate issues and long-term needs. This includes access to capital, connection to a qualified workforce, help with COVID protocols and one-on-one help from business experts.

Loan relief, rent assistance and grants provide an immediate lifeline for businesses. However, a consistent revenue stream from customer purchases is the only long-term solution for small business sustainability. While coalitions will continue to address systemic barriers to business success, all of us can do our part by shopping at neighborhood businesses. Let’s use our spending dollars to sustain Detroit’s small businesses – the lifeblood of our economy and heartbeat of our communities.

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