Port Huron businesses enroll in MEDC crowdfunding program to receive matching grants

Spring was supposed to be a big season for Anita Varty.

She opened MI Passion, her upscale women’s boutique and gift store, in Port Huron last summer. By January 2020, Varty moved the boutique to an even bigger storefront — twice the square footage, in fact.

Gearing up for a grand opening celebration, Varty was stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated shutdowns.

Rather than let the virus shut her down, however, Varty took to social media where she hosted a series of live Facebook events, selling her products. It was a sort of Home Shopping Network-solution to a 2020 problem.

"When things change, you have to change with the times," Varty says.

"Since people couldn’t come out to the store, we had to go to their living rooms."

Keeping flexible and thinking outside of the box are skills that have proven all-the-more valuable in these days of COVID-19 shutdowns. And now that some restrictions are being lifted and businesses are welcoming customers back into their stores, entrepreneurs are faced with a whole new set of challenges.

Varty, for example, would like to purchase new inventory and hire two or three part-time employees for the summer. The economic downtown resulting from the health crisis, however, has made those tasks difficult.

That’s why she enrolled in the MI Local Biz program, an extension of the state’s placemaking initiative Public Spaces Community Places. The MI Local Biz program was created by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to help Michigan small businesses get back on their feet as the state re-opens.

Through the program, MI Passion has until Thursday, July 2, to raise up to $4,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on the Michigan-based Patronicity platform. The MEDC will then match funds raised. The boutique must raise at least $1,000 to collect.

Varty says that she would then use the money to address inventory and staffing needs.

MI Passion isn’t the only area business to enroll in the program. Cavis Grill, also of Port Huron, recently launched a MI Local Biz campaign. So, too, did video rental store Real Video, of nearby Sandusky. And more could be announced soon.

"This is a huge opportunity for me and it will take off some of the stress and worry. I don’t want to close my doors," Varty says. "No one saw this coming."

The new location of MI Passion is at 229 Huron Ave. in downtown Port Huron. A grand opening celebration is planned for Tuesday, June 30.

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