Last Thursday, Economic Development Corporation (EDC) President and CEO James Patchett joined Borough President Donovan Richards and local elected officials on a walking tour of commercial corridors in Jackson Heights to promote the Queens Small Business Grants Program.
They also visited two restaurants that already received the grant to receive feedback on its impact.
Patchett said he expects the program to serve between 750 and 1,000 businesses in total. While there is no immediate deadline, the application is now open, so he encouraged small businesses to apply now.
“The sooner that people get their applications in, the more likely they are to get funded,” he said.
The $17.5 million grant program was made possible by a donation from New York Mets owner Steven Cohen. The $20,000 grants will be administered by the Long Island City-based training nonprofit Pursuit, as well as the organizations BOC Capital, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, Renaissance EDC and Queens Chamber of Commerce.
To be eligible, applicants must be located in a low- and moderate-income (LMI) zip code in Queens or a COVID-19 “hardest-hit” zone. They must be a restaurant, retail or personal services small business located on the first or second floor.
Small businesses that qualify must have employed 20 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, and have earned gross revenue of $1 million or less that year. Restaurants that participate must have earned less than $3 million in gross revenue.
Applicants must also have filed their 2019 personal and business tax returns, and have no open tax liens or unresolved judgements.
Patchett noted that so far, over 85 percent of the businesses that have applied are minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs). He said the program is intended to help the smallest businesses, especially those with diverse owners.
“All of us have been walking around the city and seeing how much small businesses are struggling, what they need right now is a lifeline,” he said. “We believe this program could be the difference between some businesses making it through the winter or not.”
Richards said the program prioritizes communities that are “closest to the pain” caused by the pandemic, including Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
“The New York Mets, I have to say, hit a home run on this one with the city,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that these businesses are not striking out by ensuring that there’s grant money for them.”
Among the elected officials that joined them on the walking tour were Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas. Cruz added that street vendors are also part of the grant program because they are a part of the small business community in her district.
“We want to make sure that you can live, that your small business can live to see next year and the year after that,” she said. “It is your small businesses that make our community beautiful.”
One of the recipients of the $20,000 grant was Rajendra Gurung, owner of Laliguras Restaurant on 76th Street. He said he will use the funds to help pay the rent and his staff. Before the pandemic, the restaurant employed 11 people, but now only employs four.
“It’s been very difficult for the business,” he said through a translator. “There’s no indoor dining, and because of the weather, it’s difficult to have outdoor seating.
“We also don’t have delivery,” Gurung added, “so it has impacted our sales.”
Leading the tour last week was Leslie Ramos, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership. She noted that her business improvement organization has been on the ground, going door-to-door to explain to businesses what the program is and help them collect the information they need to apply.
Ramos said she also advocated to ensure the grant program partners with bilingual groups, which is particularly important for immigrant applicants.
“Businesses are interested, but they don’t have the computer skills,” she said. “That’s where we play a role, in advertising the program, encouraging them and assuring that there’s going to be someone there to assist them.”
Small businesses in the neighborhood have applied for grants in the past, Ramos said, but they often don’t receive them because they lack the language and computer skills to compete with “someone who might have an MBA.”
“I feel this program is much more fair in that sense,” Ramos said. “It’s not about who can do the best essay, but who actually has the need.”
Most struggling businesses have dipped into whatever resources they have left, she said, and are working long hours. Some did not even qualify for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), placing even greater importance on this grant program to survive.
Ramos said she hopes after the tour, elected and city officials will become even better advocates for businesses in Jackson Heights, which she said are considered “outside of the norm.” She noted that several businesses they visited last week are cramped in small spaces. Some places have five businesses in one location.
“When we are talking about resources and assistance, understanding those businesses is so important in terms of making public policy,” she said. “I’m very grateful that they’re coming out here and seeing who the grants are going to benefit.”