Small independent businesses and restaurants are the lifeblood for our downtowns, village centers and neighborhood commercial districts.  These businesses have been faced with unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Businesses, and the communities in which they are located, have had to pivot to find ways to navigate this crisis.  At Connecticut Main Street Center, we are doing our part to advocate for small business support, communicate the availability of programs to assist small businesses during this critical juncture, and to provide educational programming that highlights tools that communities can utilize to bolster their small business sectors.

Working Together for Change

In the absence of a new federal relief package, CMSC joined small business assistance programs, including: Connecticut Small Business Development Center, Spanish American Merchants Association, Hartford Economic Development Corporation, Women’s Business Development Council, Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, and the University of Hartford, Entrepreneurial Center/Women’s Business Center to advocate to the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) the need for a grant program to assist small businesses. Our concerns were echoed by organizations representing the tourism and hospitality industry and other business groups including the Connecticut Restaurant Association, chambers of commerce and CBIA.  The need for new business support was evidenced by:

  • 84% of Payroll Protection Program loan recipients will have exhausted funding by the first week in August;
  • 63% of small businesses say less than 75% of their pre-COVID revenue has returned;
  • 26% won’t make it past the next three months without additional funding;
  • 1 in 5 say they will not survive after four to six months; and
  • 56% of all small businesses are struggling to make rent or mortgage payments, 63% of businesses owned by people of color.

Many businesses continue to be concerned about cash flow and their ability to pay bills such as rent, utilities, payroll, as well as marketing funds or other resources intended to bring back customers.  For many small businesses, taking on additional debt would be problematic, so a grant program was recommended.

CT CARES About Small Business

We applaud Governor Ned Lamont, DECD Commissioner David Lehman, DECD Deputy Commissioner Glendowlyn Thames, and DECD staff such as Sheila Hummel for responding to calls for small business assistance by recently announcing the CT CARES Small Business Grant Program. The state is utilizing $50 million in federal CARES Act stimulus money to provide one-time $5,000 grants to eligible small businesses and nonprofits.  $25 million is being targeted to businesses in distressed municipalities and $25 million to the remainder of the state.  The application portal will be opened the week on November 9th.   Click here to see DECD’s informational session held on October 30th.

The CT CARES program is designed to be a bridge until a federal relief package is passed.  With the uptick in COVID-19 cases across the country and the onset of colder weather, the impacts on small businesses could be devastating.  There is no doubt that additional permanent business closures will occur in the absence of additional federal funds for the Payroll Protection Program and other support programs. Now that the election is over, hopefully negotiations for a comprehensive relief package gets kickstarted and legislation is passed soon.

Of concern to our downtowns is the ability of restaurants to survive.  Restaurants provide significant employment across the state and add to the vibrancy and livability of our downtowns. The quick actions of municipalities to allow for expanded outside dining helped restaurants during the warmer months.  With the onset of the colder weather and limited indoor seating capacity, many restaurants will struggle.  There is bipartisan support at the federal level for The RESTAURANTS ACT that would allocate $120 billion to this important sector of our economy.

Another important sector for our downtowns is performing arts venues that have been largely closed throughout the course of the pandemic.  There is bipartisan support for the Save our Stages Act that would allocate $10 billion in grants.

Federal Relief Remains On Our Radar

CMSC is also working with Main Street America and our fellow state Main Street coordinating programs to advocate for $100 million in Economic Development Administration funding. These funds would go to support the work of the Main Street network in assisting communities in their COVID-19 relief efforts.

Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is united in advocating for a new federal relief package but be sure to add your voices to the call for more small business support.

Here to Help

Our Main Street managers, local economic development and planning professionals and others have stepped to the plate in heroic fashion to assist their small businesses during the pandemic with PPE distribution, fast tracked zoning approvals for outside dining and commerce, and special promotional activities including gift card programs and video spotlights of businesses.  At CMSC we have been focused on providing our member communities and local Main Street programs with tools they can utilize to support their small businesses through our Recovery & Resiliency webinar series. This series has proved very popular which each session being fully subscribed. We post each recording to our website after the session for 24/7 viewing and encourage you to check out these conversations with national and local downtown leaders.

Our next webinar, COVID-19 Check-in: Do my businesses have what they need as we move into 2021?, is scheduled for December 17th.  Join AdvanceCT and municipal partners in Old Saybrook and Portland as they do a COVID-19 check-in. Presenters Sadie Colcord from AdvanceCT, Susie Beckman, Economic Development Director, Town of Old Saybrook and Mary Dickerson, Development Planner, Town of Portland will examine how the pandemic has impacted businesses thus far and explore some exemplary efforts in supporting them through it all. Then, they will look toward the future and discuss what business impacts could look like over the next few months and how we can reutilize and adjust existing support efforts and ideas to maintain our local economies.

Beyond our webinars, we were struck by the findings from a Main Street America small business survey which found an alarming 63% of small business owners don’t have e-commerce in place to complement their storefront operations.  In response to this startling statistic, CMSC teamed with Arnett Muldrow & Associates to develop our Small Business Resource Library. These videos provide information that businesses need in order to thrive during Covid-19 and beyond. The videos focus on business resiliency – how-to’s that prepare business owners to meet the needs and expectations of customers. The brief videos (8-20 minutes each) can be watched individually or as a series.

The holiday season is fast approaching and is always a critical time for small business sales. Please be sure to support your local businesses on Small Business Saturday and Artists Sunday.  Remember that when you support your local businesses more money circulates in the local economy than will happen through national retailers and national online platforms.  Help save your local mom & pop independently-owned businesses so that our downtowns can remain vibrant locations for commerce.

About the Author

Patrick has served as CEO of Connecticut Main Street Center since August 2017.  Prior to this position, he served in various local economic and community development roles for Windsor, Windsor Locks and Suffield.  Patrick is a champion for downtown and neighborhood commercial district revitalization and historic preservation.