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Grover Beach business assistance microgrant program provides lifeline to struggling owners 

A few long weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, Julia Powers was starting to lose hope.

Like so many other business owners, Powers had to temporarily close her Grover Beach-based yarn and knitting store, Let's Knit, in mid-March because of COVID-19. But as other businesses and restaurants pivoted to online sales or takeout, Powers felt stuck. Her clientele is largely made up of seniors, and much of her revenue comes from hosting in-person knitting classes.

"I don't do any online or anything," Powers said. "My store was closed so I wasn't bringing anything in."

click to enlarge STAYING AFLOAT Let's Knit is one of SLO County's only local providers of yarn and other knitting products. Owner Julia Powers was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the city of Grover Beach to help her get through the COVID-19 pandemic. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIA POWERS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Julia Powers
  • STAYING AFLOAT Let's Knit is one of SLO County's only local providers of yarn and other knitting products. Owner Julia Powers was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the city of Grover Beach to help her get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Soon she discovered there isn't much help available for business owners like her. She applied for loans and grants through the Paycheck Protection Program and Small Businesses Administration, but her application was denied because she's the sole proprietor of Let's Knit. Powers applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—unemployment benefits created specifically for those who are self-employed—and she still hasn't heard back.

Things were looking bleak, and Powers said she was considering pulling a few thousand dollars from her personal savings just to pay rent. Then she heard that the city of Grover Beach and South County Chambers of Commerce were offering grants of up to $10,000 to business owners struggling to stay afloat through COVID-19.

Powers applied for $5,000—enough to pay about three months' rent—and was accepted in full. Money in hand, she paid off some piling bills and was able to open her doors again on July 1.

There are restrictions in place, and Powers' business is still grappling with pandemic-related challenges, but without that grant, she said, "I'd be scrambling."

"I'm trying to do the best I can," she said. "It's day-to-day because you just don't know which way this is going."

Through Grover Beach's business assistance microgrant program, businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic were able to apply for the grant funding to put toward salaries, commercial rent, protective gear for staff, and any other modifications necessary to gain compliance with COVID-19 related safety guidelines.

The program, according to Grover Beach officials, was funded in part by Senate Bill 1090, a law that provided SLO County with millions of dollars to mitigate the economic impacts of the coming closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. When Grover Beach City Council adopted its 2020-21 budget, it also approved an additional allocation of $50,000 in general funds to go toward the microgrant program.

On July 1, the city announced the microgrant recipients, 20 businesses—everyone who applied—ranging from restaurants like Bunn Thai Bistro and Perfetto Caffe to salons, gyms, and everything in between.

For some, the extra money is just keeping them afloat. For others, it's helping make business-model adjustments that are necessary to survive through the pandemic but could last even once it's over.

At Epic Entertainment, which provides emcee, lighting, and photo-booth services at events and weddings, 2020 was shaping up to be an amazing year. Epic Entertainment President Anthony Salas said he had scores of weddings booked throughout the year, and a number holidays land on weekends in 2020, which makes it easier for people to host big parties. Then COVID-19 hit, and the cancellations flooded in.

Salas said he'll never forget the first call he received in March from a bride who said she wanted to reschedule her wedding due to COVID-19.

"I was like, 'What is this chick talking about? She is out of her mind,'" Salas said with a laugh. "And sure enough within like two or three days we were getting hit left and right."

Now Epic Entertainment has made scheduling and planning adjustments to more than 200 events. Although they've worked some weddings in the last few months, Salas said they're far smaller and shorter than usual.

"It's just costing us a ton of time and effort," he said.

Fortunately for Salas, Epic Entertainment received a $9,000 grant from Grover Beach in early July, money the company is using to set up a new COVID-19 friendly business model. With high-end livestreaming technology and partnerships with local wedding venues in place, Epic Entertainment plans to offer $2,500 pandemic weddings, in which Salas said a bride and groom can choose a venue and get married with all their friends and family watching online. A cake, photographer, music, flowers, and the venue itself are all included.

"So," Salas said, "we're just trying to make sure that we're poised for the next steps of what events and entertainment are going to look like."

Thanks to Grover Beach, he said, that's possible.

Fast fact

Hotel San Luis Obispo is offering complimentary yoga classes on its rooftop terrace every Thursday and Sunday at 8 a.m. and on Saturdays at 10 a.m. A donation of $10 to $15 per class is suggested but not required. Visit hotel-slo.com for details. Δ

Correction: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Anthony Salas' name.

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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