Pandemic problems continue to plague small businesses, but grants ease the pressure

There’s no place like Bay County to do business. That’s the message Bay County business owners sent to the Bay County commissioners and Bay Future Inc. officials this week.

Megan Manning, who manages investor relations for Bay Future, invited Bay County commissioners to visit area businesses that were part of the Bay County Small Business Grant Program. The Small Business program is distributing $1 million in grants to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act funding allocated to Bay County. Bay Future is administering the grants.
Read more about the program in this May 19 Route Bay City article.

So far, Bay Future has distributed about $800,000 in grants for rent or mortgages, payroll, and utilities. Another round of checks is being processed.

This week, Bay Future took Bay County Executive James A. Barcia along with county commissioners Kaysey Radtke, Vaughn Begick, Marie Fox, Tom Herek, Jayme Johnson, Ernie Krygier, and Kim Coonan to visit some of the 115 establishments that received money through the grant program.

The money has had a big impact.

Barneys came under new ownership in 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the owner still sees the influence of the pandemic in his day-to-day business.(Photo courtesy of Barneys BakeHouse Bakery)Jarrid Weighman, owner of Barney’s BakeHouse Bakery at 421 S. VanBuren St. in Bay City’s South End, says the infusion of cash for rent, utilities, and wages helped offset the rising cost of ingredients. For example, before COVID-19, he paid about $46 for a case of lard. Today, that case costs about $218.

During the pandemic and resulting labor shortage, Weighman has raised the wages he pays and begun offering perks, such as occasional lunches or breakfasts, for his staff. He figures if he takes care of them, they’ll take care of his business.

Staffing concerns and the rising price of raw ingredients aren’t the only issues facing businesses. Supply chain shortages and distribution uncertainties force businesses to get creative.

For example, Weighman says he recently ordered about $5,000 in raw ingredients to create sweet and savory treats. Only about $300 of that order appeared.

“That’s a significant amount of ingredients to not show up,” Weighman says.

He refuses to let those types of issues stop him. When his suppliers have products, but can’t find drivers, he personally makes the run to Detroit to pick up what he needs.

When he couldn’t get as much flour as he needed for full-size cakes, he started baking what he calls “bombs.” They’re single-serving cakes filled with ganache and covered in glaze.

When sales to individual customers shrank, Weighman started marketing his buns and bread to local restaurants including Old City Hall and the food trucks parked outside Drift.

Through it all, he says he appreciates that the community has his back.

“The outreach has been incredible,” Weighman says. “Bay City has just been incredible.”

Neighbors tell him they love to sit on their porches and enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked bread and donuts. Customers snap up scratch-made, ready-to-bake quiches as fast as he can produce them.

During the tour Barcia thanked Weighman for keeping the business running. Barney’s Bakery operated out of the building for 90 years, ending in 2020. It was only closed four months, though, before Weighman opened it again.

“We’re so glad you’re continuing the legacy,” Barcia says.

The owner of the Park Avenue Party Store tries to stock the items people in the neighborhood need. For some of the elderly people in the neighborhood, the store is their best option.(Photo courtesy of Park Avenue Party Store)At the Park Avenue Party Store, located at 1501 Park Ave. near Bay City’s Carroll Park, owner Leann Przeslak says her business struggled during the pandemic. Przeslak and her sister, Kathy Kimmel, who manages the store, were forced to reduce hours and raise prices.

On hot summer days, ice cream is a big seller at the Park Avenue Party Store.(Photo courtesy of Park Avenue Party Store)But the grant money helped them keep the doors open and retain their employees.

“You guys have no idea how much that money means to me,” she says.

The business fills a need in the neighborhood. Przeslak talks about an older woman who walks to the Park Avenue Party Store for what she needs in between grocery deliveries. Families run in for last-minute needs while their kids play in the park.

Przeslak has tried to keep her prices as low as possible for her customers, but it’s not easy when her suppliers charge more for everything. The grant eased the pressure, giving her the chance to catch up a bit.

Trevor M. Keyes, Bay Future President & CEO says those stories illustrate why the grants exist. The number of COVID cases may have eased, but businesses are still dealing with the repercussions.

For many, sales dropped in the last two years and suppliers charged mores, shrinking the profit margin. At the same time, rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and wages all remained the same. Keyes says the grants help businesses cover the gap so they can continue employing people and serving the community.

Drift was one of about 90 businesses in Bay County to benefit from a Small Business Grant Program.(Photo courtesy of Drift)The Tues., Aug. 2 tour also included Drift Shoreside Beer Garden, 1019 N. Water St. in Downtown Bay City.

On Wed., Aug. 3 in the morning, the tour resumed at Advanced Total Wound Care, 912 S. Euclid Ave., JoJo's Refresh Stop at 401 W. Midland Road in Auburn, and O’s Pub and Grill, 123 E. Midland St. in Auburn. 

 Commissioner Ernie Krygier to Café One 3, Sabourin’s Pharmacy, and Double S Party store all located at 1459 S Huron Rd. Kawkawlin MI 48631
In the afternoon on Wed., Aug. 3, the tour visited Bittersweet Quilt Shop at 624 W. Fifth St. in Pinconning; Wilson’s Cheese Shoppe at 221 N. Mable St. in Pinconning;  and the Linwood Village Inn at 212 Center St. in Linwood. The group also toured Café One 3, Sabourin’s Pharmacy, and Double S Party Store all located at 1459 S Huron Road in Kawkawlin.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at