BERGEN COUNTY, NJ — One county in New Jersey is throwing a life raft to their mom and pop shops in the form of a $10,000 grant.
Small businesses are embedded in the fabric of every community and, after months of shuttering their doors, many are struggling financially, particularly those deemed non-essential. Now, Bergen County is trying to take care of its own
“I'm confident we’ll be giving away tens of millions of dollars away to small businesses,” Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said.
Tony Damiano is the owner of Mango Jam, a much-loved gift shop in the heart of Ridgewood, New Jersey. For 20 years now, it’s been a staple of the community, a place where you go to buy a gift, like for mom on Mother’s Day, but the pandemic stopped that this year.
“It was rough, especially for retail and professionals we were totally on lockdown,” Damiano said.
Damiano is also the founder and president of the Ridgewood Guild, an alliance of owners from some of the 300 retail shops, restaurants and professional services nestled in the picturesque village. All were hard hit when the Garden State shut down. Some restaurants elected to stay open for take out only.
Steel Wheel Tavern, on N. Broad Street in Ridgewood, served many front-line workers at hospitals as well as regulars who wanted to get a meal but didn’t want to cook at home during the shutdown, proprietor Glenn Carlough said.
"It was challenging, but we felt it was important to stay involved in the community, do our part to support those folks who needed a meal,” Carlough said.
Steel Wheel Tavern got a lot of support from their regular customers.
”They were very loyal and it was a big help some people came every week to place an order," Carlough said.
Still, Carlough had to adapt. Usually, his bar is a big part of his business. Carlough stocked the tavern with more take-out containers. Take out was a fraction of the business he was accustomed to.
This week, Tedesco announced the Bergen County Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Program. It’s $162 million split into two pots.
Applications are now open for municipal entities, such as Boards of Education, utility companies and government agencies, to receive direct reimbursement for expenses, including employee payroll, costs of personal protective equipment and building improvements.
Applications begin on July 13 for the Small Business Grant Program. The grant is up to $10,000 for businesses to assist them in paying for rent or mortgage and utilities.
“For the small businesses, in some cases, yes it is a lifeline,” said Tedesco “This money may be able to allow them to withstand some of the financial pressures that they’ve been under and continue to operate under.”
Ridgewood, like so many cities and towns is trying to come back to life. Customers are returning to shops, and on weekends, they're creating a pedestrian walkway to maximize outdoor dining.
Carlough has approximately 50 outdoor tables between the sidewalk outside the Tavern and, thanks to his neighbor, permitting them to use his sidewalk space.
Many businesses need that financial shot in the arm, as do the 70 municipalities in the County.
“We are here to help them both on the municipal side and the small business side,” said Tedesco. “We are a county of almost 1 million people, the largest county in the state of New Jersey, larger then six states in the nation and I want to make sure the business community and our municipal partners are made as whole as we can and we want business to continue to operate here.”
“I think many businesses are interested because who couldn't use some relief,” said Damiano. “We were locked down for 11 weeks.”
To apply for the grant, you must meet the following criteria: be a non-essential business in Bergen County, employ between one and 19 full-time employees and have been opened and operating on March 1, prior to the shutdown.
Priority will be given to businesses that have not been able to receive any federal assistance, such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
After two decades in business, Damiano is retiring, not because of the pandemic, but because he says it’s time. He will continue to support small businesses.
“We really make up the whole fabric of the community there are very few chain stores in town so it’s a haven for mom and pop stores of all kinds,” said Damiano.
Bergen County officials said once your application process is approved, you can receive the funds in a short as two weeks time.
“Straight money,” said Tedesco. “We will send the check directly or wire funds directly to the municipality’s bank or the small business‘s financial institution, it’ll be there, cash on the barrel.”
For more information on the Bergen County CARES Program: