Help is on the way for small businesses in need. The financial burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that many of Midland’s small businesses have endured are being eased by grants, awarded with the help of the Midland Business Alliance (MBA).
In one case, the grant kept owners from the possibility of having to shut their doors permanently.
Patrick McElgunn, co-owner of The Grove Tea Lounge — located on the east side of Midland at 2405 Abbott Rd. — says without the small business relief grant and the relationships he has built with other business owners and the MBA, his business would not have made it through these unprecedented times.
Patrick McElgunn co-owns Grove Tea Lounge with his wife, Shannon, and business partners John and Erin Rivard. With local support, their business was able to make it through these unprecedented times.“We had just celebrated our one year anniversary of opening. We learned a lot from our first year in business; it was a whirlwind. We had data and experience. We had a plan and we were excited for our next year,” says McElgunn. “We were looking ahead and making projections, and then the pandemic hit. It felt like year one all over again.”
McElgunn, who alongside his wife Shannon, and business partners Joe and Erin Rivard ventured out to open The Grove Tea Lounge (GTL) in Jan. 2019. During construction, the owners faced zoning challenges in order to accomodate a drive-thru at their location. McElgunn says it was worth the hurdles they faced to have the property rezoned. Without the drive-thru, McElgunn emphasizes, “there’s not a chance” their business would still be open.
McElgunn says it was worth the hurdles they faced to have the property rezoned for a drive-thru. This option helped keep business moving throughout the pandemic.
“It saved us,” says McElgunn. “Things were so unpredictable from week to week. We just thought we’d be lucky to break even. It was like Groundhog Day.”
The GTL co-owners regrouped many times, wanting to get ahead of the looming state shutdowns. McElgunn says they preemptively decided to close the dining area before the state’s announcement — all while continuing to offer a full menu and outdoor igloo seating.
“Everything changed overnight. It was our responsibility to keep some normalcy,” says McElgunn. “We wanted to be a sure thing for our customers.”
Anissa Olson has worked at Grove Tea Lounge since Sept. 2020. When the pandemic first hit last March, McElgunn says they were working around-the-clock to ensure the safety of staff and customers.
McElgunn says back when the pandemic hit in March 2020, they were working around-the-clock “requiring extra effort” to maintain that their staff and customers were safe. They had to re-evaluate how to proceed, always keeping the community and the customers’ safety in mind.
“In those 2-3 months, I had to keep up with all of the grant application paperwork. It was like having a part-time job on top of a full-time job,” he says. “We had to do what we needed to do at that point and deal with any possible negative consequences in the future. It was pure survival mode.”
Donuts are a specialty at Grove Tea Lounge, featuring creative creations such as Samoa’s donuts, Wizard donuts, and Dunkaroo donuts.
McElgunn remains hopeful into 2021.
“If we can survive this, we can make it through a lot. We want to grow our business and run with it. It will be a lot easier to reopen normally than to shut it down. It’s not over until it’s over,” says McElgunn, referring to COVID-19.
McElgunn recognizes how important other businesses and the community have been during this time. “Without the community, we wouldn't be here. It takes a whole community to support local shops. The community really showed up for us.”
More grants available soon for local businesses who apply
MBA Vice President of Economic Development Nicole Wilson says when working with McElgunn and other local business owners, she admired how he and many others maintained a positive outlook and continued to move forward.
“Folks have been heavily impacted. They’re worried about navigating through these times,” says Wilson. “These businesses have hope and have a plan and are looking for ways to reinvent their businesses, and ways to provide their services that might be new to them. Valuable ways.”
McElgunn preemptively decided to close the dining area before the state’s announcement, all while continuing to offer a full menu and outdoor igloo seating.
For example, some businesses chose to sell goods and services primarily online without a storefront, others offered curbside dining, igloo seating, or delivery options.
The MBA is working with small Midland businesses — assisting in any way that they can, says Wilson. She explains that there have been three rounds of grants and funding available to local businesses since the pandemic began nearly one year ago.
Another round of small relief grants/funding is anticipated in the next few weeks.
Nicole Wilson is the vice president of economic development at the Midland Business Alliance.In total, 307 grants have been administered by the Midland Business Alliance or Midland’s business community. The funds to support the grant programs have come from local philanthropic partners, corporate supporters, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s administration of Michigan Strategic Fund and CARES Act funding.
The Midland Business Alliance also supported the zero-interest, 12-month loan program offered by the Midland Area Community Foundation. In late December, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the bipartisan relief bill extending unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost work as a result of COVID-19 until the end of March.
The relief bill includes $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Grants of up to $20,000 will be made available to small businesses that need support this winter.
For more information on how to apply for small business relief funds/grant money, contact Nicole Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or MBA President and CEO Tony Stamas at email@example.com.