Downtown restaurants and storefronts struggling to pay the bills since being shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic have a new source of no-strings-attached money.
The Montpelier Economic Need and Distress Fund (MEND) was created with more than $200,000 contributed by a group of major Montpelier employers, and donations are being sought through June 5. Businesses in need of cash simply need to fill out a request form, also by June 5, explaining what they would use the money for and pledging to do their best to remain in business.
The program will be managed by the Montpelier Development Corp., which will cover the cost of administering the funds. The Montpelier Foundation will serve as the fiscal agent for the fund, according to Catherine Coteus, fund manager for the MEND program..
Under the grant program, downtown storefront retailers and restaurants with fewer than four locations can use up to 85 percent of their award for rent, utilities, and other bills, and up to 15 percent for physical improvements. The money is largely “unrestricted and unencumbered” and does not need to be repaid, Coteus said.
The new fund comes as the state slowly expands its reopening policy. Non-essential retail businesses are open but must limit the number of people inside the store to 25 percent of capacity. Employees are required to wear masks, and customers are encouraged but not mandated to wear them by Gov. Phil Scott’s order. Individual retailers may require customers to wear masks. Restaurants and bars are now allowed to serve patrons in outdoor seating areas, under social distancing restrictions. Beginning May 29, hair salons and barber shops may open, but operations will be limited to 25 percent occupancy; or one customer per 200 square feet; or 10 total customers and staff combined, whichever is greater.
The Montpelier grants come as business owners are feeling the increasing pressure of two-plus months of lost income.
“Something like this that puts cash in our pocket is invaluable to us. We need to survive in order to pay our debt obligations and our rent obligations,” said Wes Hamilton, co-founder and co-owner of Three Penny Taproom on Main Street. “But we also need to survive because we’re members of this community as well, and we know the tremendous social and cultural value of social spaces.”
“The fund is a welcome relief for us,” said Claire Benedict, co-owner of Bear Pond Books. “There are so many pressures being a small business owner right now, and we are so grateful for the assistance from MEND. MEND is truly representative of the Montpelier spirit of supporting local business and the downtown. The grant will help ease some of the anxiety of these difficult times while we make sure our staff and patrons can remain safe. This will provide a much needed and appreciated relief.”
Donors to the fund include Union Mutual Insurance, Vermont Mutual, National Life, Northfield Savings Bank, and Noyle W Johnson.