“The reason we are calling this the Bridge Fund, and Mayor Bowser was specific about that, is because we want these businesses, we need them to survive until we get to that new normal because of the people they employ,” said John Falcicchio, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s chief of staff.
The program comes six weeks before the Cares Act deadline, which requires local governments to return unused money from the federal aid program to the U.S. government by Dec. 30. It also comes as the country appears on track to have two effective coronavirus vaccines available in the near future, providing hope for business owners that there is reason to fight tooth-and-nail to make it through a bleak winter.
“We announced these because we know the businesses are right now struggling and we also know that the days ahead can be significant for them, too,” Bowser (D) said at a Wednesday news conference. She also said she would be imposing new coronavirus restrictions “soon,” which could further hamstring already struggling businesses.
“This grant is about allowing a pause to happen if needed and just sustain through what we know will be a really hard winter,” said Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Washington and co-chair of the ReOpen DC committee.
The grants will roll out in stages, with hotels receiving the first influx of support. The program allocates $30 million toward hotels, drawing $20 million from Cares Act funding. City leaders expect as many as 140 potential recipients for individual awards ranging from $10,830 to $270,750. They say they will allocate sums based on the number of hotel rooms up to the first 250 rooms of any one hotel. Applications for hotels will open Monday. Eighty percent of funding awarded to each hotel will be earmarked for payroll.
The second round of funding targets restaurants, doling out $35 million to as many as 700 businesses in the District. Awards range from $10,000 to $50,000, with applications set to open Dec. 7. Specifics about eligibility requirements and restrictions on spending were not available at the time of the program’s formal announcement.
As many as 575 retail businesses in the District are set to receive a total of $15 million, with individual awards ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. And the entertainment industry, which includes venues and businesses such as event planners, will receive $20 million, with grants between $4,000 and $100,000. Applications for retail owners open Dec. 15; those for the entertainment industry are set to launch Dec. 21.
The city also set aside 15 percent of the funding from restaurant and retail programs specifically for businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by economically disadvantaged individuals or women.
Local leaders hope the funding will provide a lifeline to industries gutted by the pandemic as they approach colder months when the coronavirus is surging. Over the past year, the city has lost 56,400 jobs, nearly 63 percent of which came from the hospitality, entertainment and retail sectors, according to the office of the deputy mayor of planning and economic development.
Cleshay Sutton, who owns hair salon Studio Elan in Northeast Washington, has had to close her studio every few weeks since she first reopened in March because of potential coronavirus exposure. Last week, a team member was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, which forced her to shutter once again.
“No matter what I do, it’s just not working,” she said.
Determined to see her 17-year-old business through the pandemic, Sutton decided to restructure her shop into individual luxury suites where stylists can work one-on-one with their clients. She hopes the grant funding will allow her to invest in the redesign and pay back some of her regular expenses, such as her mortgage, and give her a chance to adapt to a new normal.
“It has been a nightmare,” she said. “And this grant will be helpful beyond belief.”
The new program grew from legislation passed by the D.C. Council this summer to provide businesses financial support through the pandemic. It is the city’s most expansive effort to boost the local economy following a microgrant program in the spring and a recent $2.5 million grant program to get small businesses “winter ready.”
“Now that another four months have passed since introduction, the situation is even more dire and the need even greater,” said council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), chair of the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Business and Economic Development, in a statement. “So, while there remains much work ahead, today marks a clear commitment to continue to do all that I can to support our workers in DC and the small businesses that employ them.”