Free legal consultations for downtown Farmington businesses thanks to DDA-attorney partnership

As director of Farmington’s Downtown Development Authority, Kate Knight is always looking for ways to answer this question: How can we lift up our mom-and-pop shops according to their individual needs?

It’s no easy task, and especially so in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have a wide variety of business types downtown with different building types and tenants and owners. Depending on where you are as a business, how able are you to deal with COVID-19? A catastrophic event isn’t always in the plan," Knight says.

Enter Joe Grekin.

Grekin is a resident of Farmington, a self-described citizen of its downtown, and an attorney and member of the Schafer & Weiner bankruptcy law firm. (Full disclosure: He’s also the husband of Metromode contributor Jenn McKee).

A conversation between Knight and Grekin has resulted in a unique opportunity for downtown Farmington businesses. The DDA is now offering those businesses free legal consultations from Grekin, allowing them to gain professional insight into how to navigate the ever-changing, murky waters of COVID-19 economic relief programs.

"Since a lot of downtown businesses aren’t of a size that has easy access to professionals with the information that we have, I thought I could easily offer that information to businesses through the DDA without breaking anyone’s bank accounts," Grekin says.

"This kind of advice can be expensive, especially for small shops."

It works like this. The DDA has hired Grekin as an independent contractor, keeping costs lower than if he were hired on retainer. Grekin has also lowered his rates to make the service that much more affordable for the city. Each downtown business is offered a half-hour legal consultation, free of charge.

Knight had to get creative to make it work, using TIF grants, or Tax Increment Financing, to pay for the service.

"I thought about TIF captures and you can use them for business incubators, attracting or supporting businesses downtown. You can hire planners, consultants, architects. So why couldn’t we offer something like legal services? The consults are offered to every business downtown equally," Knight says.

"It’s been a good way to lift them up and help them identify what their best plans of action are."

The Sidecar Slider Bar was one of the first businesses to take advantage of the free legal consultations.

Like many business owners throughout the country, Sidecar owner Scot Pelc was reading everything he could about the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, or what’s become commonly known as PPP. It's a lot to digest.

"When I called Joe, it was extremely useful. I learned some very valuable things at the time. And there have been so many changes so often that the closer we get, I wish we had even another ten minutes with him. So much has changed since we first talked," Pelc says, demonstrating just how difficult it can be for small business owners to wade through the legal ins and outs of the economic recovery programs.

"It was such a stress reliever to hear the information from a professional, instead of reading something online."

It’s why Grekin has offered his services at a discounted rate. Professional consultations can be expensive, yes, but they’re often worth it. And Grekin, ever the Farmington booster that he is, wants to see downtown Farmington and its businesses make it through this coronavirus-related economic downturn.

"It’s expensive for businesses to hire lawyers and the DDA is doing it for them. A lot of business owners can come away with really good advice from someone who is forced through their job to pay extra attention to what’s going on, day after day, and with a lot of resources behind them," Grekin says.

"The DDA is giving access to my information for free, and they’re doing so in a proactive way."

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.