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'Every dollar helps': Applications for Maine small business grant program to open Friday

The “Maine Tourism, Hospitality, and Recovery Grant Program” is using remaining federal CARES Act funding to give up to $20,000 to 2,500 approved businesses.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Applications for a $40 million grant program are expected to open online Friday, December 4 at 9 a.m. to help small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The “Maine Tourism, Hospitality, and Recovery Grant Program” is using remaining federal CARES Act funding ($30 million from the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program and $10 million in additional Coronavirus Relief Funds money) to help businesses. People can apply on a first come, first serve basis – and up to $20,000 in aid will be given to the 2,500 approved applicants.

The application was supposed to open on Thursday morning, but only about a hundred people were able to get through because of issues with the online national system. Aid will be determined by looking at the extent of losses for a business from March through September.

RELATED: Mills launches $40M grant program to support Maine tourism, hospitality, and small businesses

“Think of this as a lightning round for businesses that have had significant revenue disruption as a result of COVID,” Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, explained to NEWS CENTER Maine. She says this program is focused on helping food service businesses, breweries, wineries, retail stores, arts and entertainment, and recreation.

The Maine DECD designed this program with industry associations, business owners, and chambers of commerce. It’s not supposed to be a permanent solution, but rather a quick tool to provide more immediate support to businesses.

“Certainly, with the increase in case count, there’s a lot of concern out there about making sure our industries stay viable – and that they’re around in 2021,” Curtis Picard, the president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said. He says his team has been working closely with the DECD regarding economic issues like this grant program, as well as retail safety protocols.

Picard says for most Maine retailers, the summer and holiday seasons are very important. It’s why he’s encouraging Mainers to consider where they’re spending their money this December.

“We’ve said it all along – if you want those (local) retailers to be there for you in 2021, you need to be there for them now in 2020.”

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Bayside Bowl in Portland is one of those struggling retailers. After 10 years, owner Charlie Mitchell bought out his business partner in February – a month before the pandemic came in full force. He says his facility has a capacity of 700 people, but they’ve only been operating with 50 since reopening. It’s why he applied for the new grant program Thursday morning.

“Every grant helps. Every dollar helps at this point,” Mitchell admitted, noting his business has lost “well into seven figures” this year.

Moderation Brewing in Brunswick is a newer business founded in 2019, and its co-owner Mattie Daughtry says they are also having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’ll be blunt – it’s pretty scary,” Daughtry acknowledged. She says she’s grateful for the state’s support throughout this pandemic but is worried that the funding they’ve received so far just won’t be enough – especially with winter looming on the horizon.

“What we loved about our small, cozy space is everything that is not welcome or particularly safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Daughtry said.

RELATED: Congress returns with virus aid, federal funding unresolved

Per the U.S. Department of the Treasury, funds must be committed by December 30. You can find out more about the “Maine Tourism, Hospitality, and Recovery Grant Program” here.

The next DECD update will be held Wednesday, January 6 at 3:30 p.m. You can register here.

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