COVID-19 Relief Grants Help Revive Syracuse Businesses Affected by Pandemic

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Cathy Pemberton has spent more than half of the past year running her bakery entirely on her own.

Shortly after the pandemic hit the United States, the number of customers at his Armory Square business, Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen, plummeted. As her bakery’s income began to dry up, Pemberton was forced to lay off all of her employees and single-handedly run all aspects of her business.

“It was very exhausting,” she says. “I did everything: shopping, delivering, cooking, packing. Plus, I would respond to any changes that happened and try to decide whether to stay open or closed. It was a lot.

In mid-January, Pemberton received an email from the Syracuse Economic Development Corporation encouraging him to apply for a COVID-19 relief grant to help cover his company’s pandemic-related expenses, including associated costs. his company’s online ordering system and the necessary new packaging. to individually wrap cookies.

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Weeks later, she was told she had received the grant – and she now plans to use that money to make up for her lost income and pay the two employees she was able to rehire.

Pemberton’s Bakery is one of 39 small businesses in Syracuse to receive a portion of $ 350,000 in federal funding distributed by the Economic Development Corporation in February.

The city of Syracuse received more than $ 1.5 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in September to address coronavirus issues in the city, and the $ 350,000 is part of that federal funding, Eric said. Ennis, director of business development for the city and general manager of the economic development company.

The value of the grants ranges from $ 2,240 to $ 10,000, depending on a press release from the office of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. The majority of grant recipients were small business owners in the restaurant, child care, retail and professional services industries, the release said.

The city gave more than half of the grants to businesses owned by women and people of color, Walsh said in the statement.

“We really wanted to focus on minority-owned or female-owned businesses that may not have had the same level of access to some of these other federal resources,” Ennis said. “(There) was a very intentional effort to make sure that these businesses in the city – especially in the lower income neighborhoods – knew this funding was available.”

The Northeast Hawley Development Association Inc., one of the grantees, plans to use the funding for a marketing campaign that will encompass small businesses in the Northside neighborhood of Syracuse, said Dallas Bryson, the association’s small business facilitator. .

Graphic number that reads 350,000 dollars

Maya Goosmann | Design editor

In the coming months, the association hopes to showcase the diverse range of local businesses in the neighborhood – including an Ethiopian restaurant and an African clothing store – and provide support to their owners, many of whom are part of. marginalized communities, she said.

The economic development corporation promoted application materials for these grants through social media and its website, and also contacted local business owners directly via email to notify them of the grants, Ennis said.

To be eligible, an applicant’s declared use for the grant had to be directly related to expenses related to the pandemic, such as building an outdoor dining area, purchasing personal protective equipment, or putting in place of a take-out ordering system, he said.

Jontia Grady-Branch, owner of an event planning company called Pretty & Pink Party Planning, heard about the grants when they were first announced, but didn’t think she was eligible for them.

She had paid a web developer to build a website so her business could reach more potential customers, which she said would not meet the requirements for the grant – but once she found out it was the case, she quickly applied for it, she said.

In addition to the website expenses, Grady-Branch plans to use the funding to start a service called a “party in a box,” where it would deliver or ship party supplies directly to customers’ homes.

My business is basically social gatherings, parties, events. When you couldn’t come together, I had nothing to do.

Jontia Grady-Branch, owner of Pretty & Pink Party Planning

Grady-Branch’s business had to essentially shut down early in the pandemic, and although it has started to see more customers as COVID-19 restrictions have eased in recent months, she hopes the “party in a box” service will provide a stable and reliable source of income in a context of persistent uncertainty.

“My business is basically social gatherings, parties, events. When you couldn’t come together, I had nothing to do, ”Grady-Branch said. “(The grant) will help take the business to a different level when it comes to, ‘What if this is the new standard? What if things had to close again? It will be my saving grace.

In addition to this $ 350,000 grant, the economic development corporation distributed $ 150,000 to 23 businesses in Syracuse in early December, Ennis said. Due to the “overwhelming response” the city received from applicants during the first round of grants, the economic development corporation rushed to get more funding for this second grant disbursement, he said. .

Although the city has now awarded the grant, Ennis is hopeful that Syracuse’s economy – and its small businesses – will begin to recover as more and more of the city’s residents get vaccinated.

Like Ennis, Pemberton is already optimistic about the city and the future of his bakery.

“It’s going to be great, because it pays back the money I spent and considered missing,” she said. “Now that gives me that money back so I can reinvest in the business.”


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About Christopher Easley

Christopher Easley

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