When Albina Ariku's son walked into her clothing store to tell her he had achieved 4.0 school grades she was delighted. She was also heart-breakingly disappointed. The Bonjour Boutique owner wanted to take her son out to restaurant to celebrate his success, but with COVID-19 closures in place, she realized it would be impossible.
"I told him I owe him the finest meal at the nicest restaurant when we can go out again," Ariku says.
Albina Ariku owns Bonjour Boutique in Sterling Heights.
Dining out, however is just one of the many problems Ariku faces as a business owner during COVID-19 restrictions and closures. When she was forced to close her store at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights because of the global pandemic, she says she had no idea how she was going to pay the ongoing costs and bills associated with it. Help came, she says, from an unexpected quarter.
Ariku is one of the 4,100 recipients awarded relief funding from Macomb County's small business grant program
, and says the boost was the first sign of hope for her business.
"I never thought the government would do that," she says. "When we needed them they really were there."
Grantees like Ariku have been awarded funding by the Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, after the county received an allocation of $152.5 million through the federal CARES Act and the Coronavirus Relief Fund in April. The county has awarded $20.8 million in small business sustainability grants so far, and estimates that the funding has helped retain 27,000 workers during the crisis.
Last week Macomb County announced it has received $4.1 million from the state and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, through the $55 million Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program, to assist businesses that have experienced significant financial hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency orders issued in November and December 2020. The application period for grant funding will run through noon tomorrow.
“Businesses across our community continue to face unimaginable challenges," said County Executive Mark Hackel. “Our goal with this new grant is to target industries that have been hit the hardest by shutdowns and orders. We will do what it takes to get these businesses back on their feet.”
Ariku says even with her store currently open, because COVID-19 prohibits gatherings, her revenue is still minimal because of the ripple effect on clothing retail demand.
"It has paralyzed the business," she says. "Our customer's would shop for fun, but now no one is attending parties, weddings, proms."
In the latest round of funding, Macomb County officials say they will give priority to brick-and-mortar businesses in industries such as restaurants, bars, banquet facilities, gyms, entertainment venues, and recreational facilities. While the state is allowing applications for funding up to $15,000 or $20,000, the county will determine the final amounts to distribute based on the number of applicants and demonstrated need.
“Grant funding can be used for payroll, rent, mortgage payments, utilities and other expenses,” says Vicky Rowinski, director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development. “We understand how challenging this period has been and our priority is to help businesses recover in every way possible.”
An eligible business can be for-profit or non-profit, with up to 100 employees (including full-time, part-time and owner-employees), and must demonstrate working capital as well as hardship caused by the emergency orders. Grants are not being awarded on a first come, first serve basis and interested individuals can learn more and apply here