A Special Place is the name of a small business with a 100-square-foot storefront on U.S. 87 in Navarre that is, well, just that — a special place.
It’s filled with locally produced and locally sourced goods like paintings, jewelry, T-shirts, greeting cards and handblown glass. Owner Michelle Massey opened the business in 2011 and has used the store to secure commissions for local artists and creators for the past nine years.
But when COVID-19 hit, Massey found herself in a situation she had never faced before and was forced to close her doors for an entire month. Now, still just able to keep her head above water, she’s one of more than 100 Santa Rosa County small business owners who applied this week for new CARES Act-funded small business grants the county is administering.
“It would be a huge blessing, it would take out the uncertainty of whether or not we’re able to get out the hole that’s been created,” Massey said of receiving a grant. “People don’t realize that even though you were closed and not making money, you still have all the bills associated with the business. Small businesses aren’t paying themselves, and it’s been hard to come back from.”
Santa Rosa County has allocated a total of $2.6 million of CARES Act funding to provide grants of up to $20,000 to eligible small businesses like Massey’s that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The latest grants are different than the small business grants awarded in April and May, which were funded directly by the county through a $100,000 grant.
In discussions with the state last week, the county learned it must spend the full $8 million the state already provided before the county can unlock the remaining $24 million in the reimbursable funds it was promised. Santa Rosa had previously voted to allocate $2.6 million of the total $32 million for small business grants, but decided last week to spend $800,000 of that between Sept. 28 and Oct. 16 so it can then unlock the remaining $1.8 million to fund another round of small business grants before the end of the year.
“We opened up (the applications) on Monday, but if all that money is allocated by Friday, then we can look at moving money around that is being under-utilized in other areas of the initial $8 million allocation,” said Jared Lowe, grants coordinator for Santa Rosa County.
The grant amount tiers are $10,000 for small businesses with up to 25 employees and $20,000 for small businesses with 26 to 100 employees. Information on how to apply for the grant is available on the county website, santarosa.fl.gov.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Lowe said “more than 100” applications had been received since the application process opened Monday. Applications close at 5 p.m. Oct. 16.
The grants department is working with the Florida Small Business Development Center to review and approve the applications.
Pik-itz! is another Navarre small business that has applied for the most recent grants.
Terry Light, who owns the shop that sells antiques, collectibles, art, furniture and more, opened up her business in 2019 and said COVID-19 hit her business hard.
“We were on track to really start doing very well this year, and March was setting up to be our best month since we opened,” she said. “And then on March 15, we pretty much just stopped. We closed on the 24th and stayed closed until May.”
Light, who opened her store early last year, said this year was shaping up to be a banner year business-wise. She was offering art classes, seeing tons of foot traffic and was excited to capitalize on the busy spring and summer months. But then COVID-19 happened.
“One of my reasons I applied is because I have property taxes coming up in November, and I usually count on the increase in business over the summer to save up money to set aside and pay my property taxes,” Light said.
Light said getting the $10,000 small business grant would give her breathing room that she hasn’t had in months.
“It will give me breathing space, and help pay my taxes without having to put personal money into the business to do that, so it’s a pretty big deal,” she said. “It would be really helpful.”
Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Santa Rosa to disperse $2.6 million in CARES Act grants to businesses hurt by COVID-19