Despite the drastic impact that the ongoing pandemic has had on small businesses, six local businesses will be receiving some extra help to either keep them going or get them up and running again.
Last week, MN Main Street announced the recipients of the Rethos Main Street micro funding for small businesses located in designated Main Street Minnesota communities. Among those recipients are Old Town Bagels, Owatonna Fitness, Corporate Recognition, Kleckers Creations, Kottke Jewelers, and The Hat Chic — all businesses located in downtown Owatonna.
“Every year we get a little bit of money through Main Street Minnesota to use on projects, but this year they reached out to us and talked about doing small micro-grants instead to help businesses impacted by COVID-19,” said Shirley Schultz, the Main Street director at the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “We agreed instantly.”
Schultz said that this year, the money the local Main Street program would have received was earmarked to add lighting in some of the downtown alleyways. She explained that while this project is still important to the program, especially to enhance public safety, the obvious choice was to invest in its small business owners.
“It was an easy decision,” Schultz said. “If somebody is struggling, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to put the money somewhere else. We want all these guys to survive — we can find other funds for the lights.”
Additionally, Schutlz said that the Owatonna Economic Development Authority elected to put additional money toward the micro funding program, allowing two additional local businesses to be supported on top of what would have been only four. The Rethos Main Street Support Fund program made all of the selections.
Among those businesses selected, Pam Kubat with Corporate Recognition said that the $1,000 her business will receive is earmarked for a marketing promotion once its clients are able to reopen their doors.
“We’re going to use these dollars for marketing funds to touch our customers with promotional, welcome back to work-type packages,” Kubat said. “Just to remind them that we’re here and ready for them to get back to work and recognize their employees who have been working hard from home and making the best of a bad situation.”
During the pandemic, Corporate Recognition shifted gears to help provide necessary personal protective equipment – or PPE – as well as cleaning supplies that were in high demand to essential workers and businesses. While she explained that they were fortunate to have this to keep them busy, it has still impacted their cash flow and that they will need to get started with regular business once that resumes again.
“I foresee that there might be a break coming where we don’t have much business as everyone has to get back on track,” Kubat said. “There might be a couple of months even of everyone trying to navigate and make that switch back to normal, so these funds are going to help us stay in the forefront of our customers’ and new customers’ minds.”
Marketing efforts is listed as one of the main purposes for the Rethos Main Street funding, though Schultz said that the funds could also go toward creating an online presence, technical upgrades and new signs or storefront displays. For Reagan West, Owatonna Fitness owner, she is planning on doing a little bit of everything to make a splash in the community once she can reopen to the public.
“I’m going to run a big ‘Welcome Back’ contest between the fitness center and the Fresh Café,” West said. “We want to make sure that we get the word out to the community that our doors are ready to be back open and these funds will provide the promotional support to just really kick off the contest and thank our customers who have hung in there with us and welcome everybody back.”
Prior to the shutdowns, West said they began transitioning classes and programs to an online format. While that has provided them a good opportunity to stay connected with clients, she admits that it just hasn’t been the same.
“It’s been awesome to be able to stay connected to everybody, but it’s not the same,” she said. “We are just so excited to get back together again.”
Micro fund grants ranged from $500 to $1,000.