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Nearly 300 Small Businesses in Lehigh Valley Receive COVID-19 Assistance

By Colin McEvoy on August 19, 2020

The interor of Just Around the Corner, an art gallery in Easton, before it was forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. (photo courtesy Just Around the Corner)

Diane Bower has been the owner of the Just Around the Corner art gallery in Easton for 15 years, but she hasn’t set foot in the building in more than five months.

Highly susceptible to COVID-19 due to underlying health issues, she closed the brick-and-mortar store on March 14. Though now in the process of creating a website for the first time, she has done virtually no business since closing except a few intermittent online sales.

That’s why Bower was pleased to be one of nearly 300 small businesses in Lehigh Valley to receive financial assistance during the first round of the COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance grant program.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful thing,” said Bower, who still needs to pay for rent, utilities, and security while closed, as well as continue compensating her artists. “I’m very grateful for it. It will provide some relief, and it will definitely be put to good use.”

This program offers grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses that have been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The window for the first round of grants closed on July 14, and a second window is currently open and will close on Aug. 28.

A total of 179 businesses in Lehigh County and 115 in Northampton County received grants during the first round, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

Across all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, 4,933 grants were distributed, totaling $96.3 million in funding, according to the DCED. A total of $47.7 million was provided to historically disadvantaged businesses, and $48.6 million was awarded to Main Street businesses.

The program is administered by Community Development Financial Institutions, and the administrator for Lehigh Valley small businesses is the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, a subsidiary of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV).

“The grant program designed by the Commonwealth and the CDFIs really hit its mark,” said Rising Tide Director Chris Hudock. “Funds are being made available to truly small businesses. It is these businesses that are the backbone of our local communities, yet they are the most vulnerable.”

Grants from the first round are in the process of being distributed, Hudock said. Eligible applicants not awarded in the first round do not need to reapply for the second round, and will be automatically rolled into the next round for consideration.

Bower received a $10,000 grant, as did Eric Castro, who has been running the Cuts and Shaves Barbershop in Allentown for four years. The business was forced to close altogether from March until the early summer, and has since reopened for appointments only. No walk-ins are permitted, and nobody is allowed in the building’s waiting room.

“We’ve taken a big hit, so this grant is a tremendous help; anything would help at this moment,” said Bower, who plans to use the funds for back rent and payroll expenses. “Rising Tide has been great. They helped me in the beginning, and have still been helping me throughout the whole time.”

Visit here for more information about the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Small Business Assistance grant program.

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) has been providing regional companies and stakeholders about this and other financing programs, in part through the organization’s dedicated COVID-19 resources page.

That page, which LVEDC updates frequently as resources available to businesses becomes available, can be found at lehighvalley.org/covid19. Information about emergency financing programs can also be found at lehighvalley.org/financing.

To be eligible for the COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance program, businesses must have annual revenue of $1 million or less, have 25 or fewer employees, and have been in business as of Feb. 15, 2020.

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