EDGEWATER — Small businesses that survived the summer are now facing a potentially brutal winter amid the pandemic, with little government financial help in the pipeline.
Now, elected officials are seeking to give small businesses a boost by being vocal champions of shopping local.
After a summer where Chicago lost dozens of small businesses, local restaurants and retailers are facing a daunting fall and winter, where outdoor service might not be feasible and when a rebound in coronavirus and the seasonal flu is predicted.
Due to decimated state and local budgets — and inaction at the federal level — new financial programs to aid struggling businesses have not yet materialized.
Instead, politicians are pledging to be spokespersons for their commercial corridors and shopping districts, elected officials said at the State of Edgewater discussion Thursday.
“My fear is folks are not going to be able to get through the winter,” Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said at the State of Edgewater roundtable, organized by the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce.
“I think the key thing that we also try to do is [use] our communication efforts to really drive people to the businesses that are here,” he said. “The key thing through the fall, winter, spring is buy local.”
A panel at the annual State of Edgewater featured a number of local and state elected officials, who were peppered with questions from members of the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce on what support for small businesses was coming.
Asked if there were specific funds to help restaurants purchase tents and heaters to extend the outdoor dining season, elected officials said there was not. When a questions was asked about help for Edgewater’s many storefront theaters, officials said they were unaware of any such program.
There is some relief in the works, however.
The city will loosen up uses of small business improvement funds, which will allow shop owners to spruce up their spaces during the winter slow season, Osterman said.
New rounds of funding for business incentive grants through the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity have been released, said Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago).
The “fair tax” proposal, should it be ratified by Illinois voters in November, could help provide some financial relief for businesses. A new president and Congress could also revitalize stalled stimulus talks in Washington, D.C., elected officials said Thursday.
In the meantime, elected officials can use their bully pulpit to be “chief marketers” for small businesses, said Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th).
“We have large platforms to reach out to a lot of neighbors in our area,” he said at the State of Edgewater panel “It does allow us to direct some of that attention towards our local businesses.”
The city and state are facing billion dollar budget deficits thanks to lost revenue due to the coronavirus. That has stymied the state’s ability to provide financial aid to struggling businesses, Cassidy said.
“It’s going to be a really tough budget,” she said.
With budget troubles hindering their aid efforts, cutting bureaucratic obstacles at City Hall could help small businesses, Osterman and Vasquez said.
Local elected officials also help businesses with problem solving during the coronavirus, Cassidy said. Many businesses are uniquely impacted by the pandemic, requiring hands-on help, she said.
“There are no blanket solutions,” Cassidy said. “We have to be directly engaged in finding solutions that meet needs.”
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