AVONDALE — Small businesses struggling to survive the coronavirus pandemic can get a lifeline through a new state program with a lot of money left to give.
In an effort to save Illinois’ struggling small business community, Gov. JB Pritkzer launched the $636 million Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program.
So far, the state has awarded grants to 4,000 small business owners across the state, half of them minority owners. But the program has $175 million left to give and officials are urging small business owners, especially Latino and Black business owners, to apply and take advantage of the program.
“I know this may seem strange or unlikely, but the government has lots of money and we want to give it to you,” State Rep. Will Guzzardi said at a Friday morning press conference.
“If you’re a small business owner, we want to give you this money. We want to give it to you for free, we want you to use it to keep your employees on your payroll and keep your businesses alive.”
The press conference was held outside of Brew Brew coffee shop in Avondale, 3832 W. Diversey Ave., which was recently awarded a $20,000 grant through the program. The grant will allow the owners to reopen their second location in Pilsen, which has been closed since the statewide shutdown in March, and hire back baristas.
“It’s a relief,” co-owner Christian Medrano said of the grant.
“COVID has been hard, but just as you would fight for your loved one, you have to fight for your business.”
Medrano, who is originally from Mexico, is one of many minority small business owners officials hope to help in the coming months.
Officials with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity have teamed up with organizations like The Resurrection Project and the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition to raise awareness about the program among Latino and Black small business communities and to provide technical assistance to business owners who apply.
So far, about 1,700 Latino business owners have applied for grants through the program, but officials are hoping to reach many more.
“There is no reason why businesses struggling, who have been impacted by COVID, should not apply,” said Raul Raymundo, CEO of The Resurrection Project, an organization based in Pilsen.
On average, applicants are finding out if they’ve won the grant within two to three weeks of applying, according to Erin Guthrie, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
In the first round, grant amounts averaged about $17,000. But going into the second round, officials are looking at how specific types of businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and using that information to determine grant amounts, Guthrie said.
Once awarded, the grant money can be used to pay employees and to pay rent, utilities and other costs associated with running a small business.
The program is being funded exclusively by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Medrano and his sister, Diana, shut down their two coffee shops and laid off all of their employees in March when Pritzker ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
When restrictions lifted, the brother-and-sister-team reopened the Avondale coffee shop, the original location, “in the hopes of keeping [the] business alive,” Medrano said.
But the coffee shop saw a 40-60 percent drop in business.
With the grant money, the coffee shop owners are finally able to chart a path forward.
“It’s free money. You don’t have to pay it back,” Medrano said. “The process is simple and it was easy to follow up.”
The city of Chicago also announced grants to struggling restaurant and bar owners Thursday. Read more about that program here.
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