While few ever focus on the positive aspects of government, there are great success stories. Times when those elected to positions shine for their constituents. In a world of controversy, partisanship, opinions and anger, sometimes differences are put aside for the good of the people, for a business, and for a city. We’ve featured a lot of hometown heroes in the Ledger Dispatch and this past Saturday we were invited to see a city council, Plymouth City Council to be more precise, deliver a little hope and a lifeline to the community it serves.
On Thursday, April 23, the Plymouth City Council passed an emergency policy in regards to Community Development Block Grants. Plymouth City Manager Rex Osborn went to work creating a simple application for Plymouth-based businesses to apply for an interest free, and potentially forgivable grant, in the amount of $5,000. Additionally, approval would occur in just days and checks issued within a week.
Flash forward to Saturday, May 10 as a group of businesses gathered, albeit socially-distanced apart, in the sitting area outside Prospect Cellars, 9506 Main Street, Plymouth. There were more than a few tears, many smiles, and an air of hope during times that have been extremely tough for the Plymouth businesses.
“Community. It means community. It’s been tough,” said Tracey Berkner, owner of Taste Restaurant, through tears. “Plymouth is the true essence of community. When we closed and started doing take-out, people that live in the neighborhood and in the town started coming in and supporting us. Some saying, I’ve never been here before, but we really value what you bring to our town. We always have a lot of locals, but lots of new people have come in. We’ve taken that to heart. Taste will not be the same. It will still be a great restaurant, but it will be a different restaurant, to honor our neighbors who have supported us through this.”
“The Community Development Block Grants are distributed as a loan initially and after a year and short review, can be forgiven in full,” said Osborn, “It is a way of providing local businesses support during this difficult time.”
“These funds will help for our payroll,” said Jamie Lubenko, of Prospect Cellars. “We’re down to one employee. I wanted enough money to cover payroll and free up those resources so we can expand our outside area to account for social-distancing when shelter-in-place orders are lifted. My building is a postage stamp, you’d only be able to have four people in at a time. This grant covers payroll so I can fence in the area out here and expand outside our building to serve more customers.”
“Any bit helps. As it is, I have four employees less,” said Rory Sheridan of Rory’s Towing and Repair. “I am really grateful to the city. I hope the city understands how grateful I am. This means a lot.”
As of the Saturday gathering, eight businesses had been approved to receive the $5,000 Community Development Block Grants. The money had been sitting on the books in Plymouth for some time, as those funds are earmarked with certain parameters to be followed. COVID-19 pandemic changed those parameters, making the funds available to businesses.
“Small businesses are the backbone of any community,” said Plymouth Mayor Keith White. “My family owned small businesses. It’s tough in the best of circumstances. This was a way for us to support and give back, and I am proud and glad we moved quickly to make these funds available.”
Plymouth was the first city in Amador County to make Community Development Block Grants available to their businesses. Sutter Creek and the City of Ione followed with similar plans shortly thereafter.
For business owners, these grants can mean the difference between staying open or closing for good. So, when you ask what it means and tears begin to flow, you know that this funding may mean more than anyone will ever be able to explain.
“What’s it mean to us? Everything,” said Elizabeth Swason, Owner of Plymouth Hotel. “It means we get to stay in business a little bit longer. Our restaurant and bar have not been able to do take-out, it’s just not set up that way. I have an extended family member that died of COVID-19, so this is very emotional. But this is hope. This is amazing and we are so grateful.”
It’s helping businesses in a very difficult time, but also helping them focus on the future.
“For us it means bringing back our Event Manager that’s been on furlough to help plan for future events,” said Jack Gorman, Executive Director for Amador Vintners Association. “For the wineries, it’s going to be a lot of changes in tasting rooms – in the way we operate. We’re working on how to prepare, assist and provide a solid foundation to move forward in the best possible way.”
Community Development Block Grant applications will be accepted for Plymouth businesses through May 31. Some of the requirements are:
• In business at least one year prior to March 1, 2020;
• Have at least one employee, verified EDD filings;
• Have an economic need for the funding;
• Have a valid business license for Plymouth and a physical address in Plymouth where business is conducted;
• Not a hotel or short-term rental venue (other programs are available for these businesses);
• Have not received any other Plymouth COVID-19 financial assistance.
The application can be downloaded at the new city website: cityofplymouth.org.
“The review process for these grants is quick, and checks are made available as quickly as possible as well. If a business applies and is denied, those will be reviewed by the Plymouth City Council to see if action can be taken to assist the business,” said Osborn. “We really just want to help our local businesses. That’s what it’s all about.”