Green Mill Bar Le Sueur

The Green Mill Bar is one of many establishments throughout Le Sueur County that has struggled during the pandemic and its restrictions. (File photo/southernminn.com)

More than half a million dollars in economic relief will be made available to local businesses within Le Sueur County.

After the Minnesota Legislature passed a $216.5 million relief package last month, Le Sueur County received $556,000 to fund emergency grants for local businesses. On Jan. 5, the Le Sueur County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to distribute grants of up to $10,000 to eligible businesses.

Working with Next Stage, a firm which helped Le Sueur County distribute small business grants through the CARES Act last year, the county plans to accept applications between Jan. 11 and Jan. 22 at noon.

The dollars are coming at a time of great need for businesses. For Mike “Mac” McMillen, owner of Mac’s Green Mill Bar in Le Sueur, the second shutdown has left his bar with next to no business. The bar owner reported that sales plummeted by 99.96% during the closure.

Times have been especially tough on Green Mill, since the institution lacks a full kitchen. During the spring, McMillen kept the bar afloat with outdoor events, like meat raffles and pork chop dinners cooked with smokers. But in Minnesota winters, holding that kind of outdoor activity has been impossible.

{p dir=”ltr”}“I’m not capable of doing that in cold weather,” said McMillen. “We needed special event permits, which is how we used our large trailer mount and smokers that frankly just don’t operate in these temperatures.”

{p dir=”ltr”}McMillen will definitely be pursuing another county grant during this second round.

Applicants will be divided into three tiers. Businesses, like Green Mill Bar, that were shutdown under the current executive order, including bars, restaurants and fitness centers, are prioritized to receive funding in tier 1. This does not include businesses, like salons, that were forced to close in the spring but were allowed to remain open under the most recent closures.

Nonprofit community asset businesses, such as VFW posts, American Legion posts and community fitness centers, that ceased operations under the winter executive order will also be prioritized.

The county’s second priority are businesses that did not receive CARES dollars from Le Sueur County last fall. Barbara Droher-Kline, the lead coordinator of Le Sueur County’s relief dollars, said that the fall program provided grants to all eligible applicants, but many businesses that could have applied did not under the assumption there would not be a second shutdown.

“I’m hearing from businesses I didn’t hear from the first time and the demand is much greater this time,” said Droher-Kline. “People really didn’t anticipate this next closure, and had they known this, they would have applied last time.”

Childcare programs may also be eligible for grants through a separate application. Next stage will be sending out surveys to local providers to assess the local need for county dollars.

The need for local relief in Le Sueur County is high, said Droher-Kline, after talking with several local business owners that were barred from accessing state funds. The county official said that several restaurant and brewery owners in the county had come to her with complaints over the state’s sales requirement which mandates that businesses must see a 30% drop in taxable sales between 2019 and 2020.

One restaurateur told Droher-Kline that he lost access to state dollars because of rising beef prices between 2019 and 2020 amid meat processing shutdowns. He raised menu prices to adjust for the costs, raising his taxable sales, but profits did not increase.

“This gentleman I spoke to should have gotten $25,000 from the state of Minnesota and has really suffered financially but has not been eligible because of the criteria the state issues,” said Droher-Kline. “I’m very concerned what we’re going to hear is our local businesses are not going to be able to access the state dollars, putting more pressure on local dollars.”

The Green Mill was one of many businesses that benefited from the county’s first round of small business grants, but did not benefit from state dollars.

“It would be nice if the money that was proposed and promised to us in the restaurant and hospitality industry would come through,” said McMillen. “If we were not opening our business again today, I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to stay open. “

Eligibility for local dollars rests on several factors. Businesses must be locally owned and operated within Le Sueur County and in good standing, operating for six months prior to March 1, 2020 and suffered significant losses in revenue. In addition, applicants must have either been forced to close under at least one of Gov. Walz’s executive orders, employed 1-20 W-2 eligible employees as of March, 2020 with under $1 million in revenue or be owner-operated with less than 20 W-2 eligible employees and under $1 million in revenue.

Reach Reporter Carson Hughes at 507-931-8575. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All Rights Reserved.

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