CORONAVIRUS

How state grants help Iowa businesses stay afloat (and how more could be needed, soon)

Yotopia is seen in Iowa City, Iowa on Saturday, April 11, 2020. The local frozen yogurt shop was one of several restaura
Yotopia is seen in Iowa City, Iowa on Saturday, April 11, 2020. The local frozen yogurt shop was one of several restaurants in the area to receive an Iowa Small Business Relief Grant to help sustain it through the coronavirus shutdown. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Thanks to a $10,000 check she got in the mail Monday, Jennifer Goodlove, owner of the Farmer’s Daughter’s Market restaurant and shop in Hiawatha, said she will be able to give more hours to the employees whose schedules she had to pare back over the last month as the fight against the spread of the coronavirus shut down businesses across the state

Though she can’t have dine-in customers, she still is serving carryout meals. They don’t bring in as much money as dine-in service did, but they’re still keeping her busy.

“I’ve been running it pretty much by myself,” she said. “This will let me bring a couple of people who work for me back on for more hours and take some stress off. It relieves me from the worry about paying my mortgage and bills so I can bring back my staff.”

The check is one of more than 1,200 like it that are going out this week to businesses that applied for Iowa Small Business Relief Fund grants to help offset losses due to mandated closures to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Most of the businesses receiving money are bars and restaurants, which Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 17 ordered closed to dine-in business. Others, including retail shops, hair salons, day cares and other small businesses, also received funds.

The program had $24 million to allocate from the state Economic Emergency Fund and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Businesses with two to 25 employees that had been economically affected by COVID-19 were eligible to apply.

The grants range from $5,000 to $25,000 and are intended to provide short-term cash flow until federal loans through the CARES Act Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program are allocated.

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“This was intended to be a short-term stopgap,” said Ashley Jared, communications director for the Iowa Finance Authority.

But the help is just a drop in the bucket compared to the need. More than 14,000 Iowa businesses applied for the grants, requesting a total of $148 million in assistance.

The awards were granted over four rounds April 7 to 10. Jared said they are keeping the remaining applications on file, but there won’t be more grants awarded unless additional funding is allocated.

She said the applications were awarded based on economic need and projected loss of revenue due.

“It was a huge process. We stood this program up in a matter of days,” she said. “We had a whole team working on this, and we actually contracted with an outside provider … They were able to help us get through the applications.”

Veronica Tessler, owner of Yotopia in Iowa City, and co-owner of Dumpling Darling in Iowa City and Nosh Cafe and Eatery in Des Moines, received a $25,000 grant for Yotopia. She said she applied for all three of her businesses, but Yotopia was the only one to be approved, and she is not sure why.

“My heart breaks for the 12,000 other businesses that didn’t get the funding … I wish the process was more transparent as to how the state chose those of us who will receive it, because there are other small businesses that are in just as dire need,” she said. “I carry a sense of guilt in some ways that I got this and others who are struggling didn’t.”

She said though she has offered carryout and delivery at Yotopia, a frozen yogurt shop on Iowa City’s Ped Mall, the business has struggled with students off campus and families not taking their kids out for a treat.

“We’re just like everyone trying to stay afloat. Especially with the nature of an experienced-based shop like Yotopia, we’ve seen a precipitous drop in sales,” she said.

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She said she is looking into offering prepackaged frozen yogurt for sale through grocery stores to bring in additional revenue, and the grant may allow her to purchase the equipment to make that possible as well as help cover the bills.

Carol Elliott, owner of Aroma Artisan Pizza in NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, received a $13,500 grant for her business, which she has closed entirely.

She tried to keep it open for carryout for the first couple of weeks, but she said sales dropped off by about 90 percent, making it financially difficult to keep going. She was also worried about her health.

“I am in a high risk group, as I have asthma, and it made me anxious as I was interacting with customers and going out shopping to source materials to keep the pizza place open,” she said. “The truth is, for me, it’s mostly about safety of others and myself.”

She said the grant will help pay her rent to the market and will allow her to send out her final payroll checks on time.

She said NewBo City Market offered some rent flexibility for tenants, but she’s glad she doesn’t have to use it.

“They’re a nonprofit; it’s nice to be able to pay my rent and pay on time. I think this grant program not only helps the people they listed, but each of those people can pay their bills and get that money back into the economy,” she said. “It’s such hard times for people, it’s so very difficult. This makes a huge difference and will help us continue to do what we love to do.”

Though the Small Business Relief Fund grant applications are closed, the Iowa Department of Revenue continues to take applications through April 30 for sales and withholding tax deferral, available to employers and businesses of all sizes impacted by coronavirus at tax.iowa.gov/COVID-19.

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A list of additional grants, loans and resources available to small businesses is at iowabusinessrecovery.com.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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