Local Small Businesses Discuss How Helpful Grants Have Been Amid Ongoing Pandemic

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Multiple small business owners and employees who have been impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic discussed how helpful grants and programs have been to help keep their businesses afloat.

Gov. Ned Lamont held a news conference on Tuesday morning with David Lehman, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association; and the owners of several small businesses that are participating in the state’s Business Recovery Grant program.

One Hartford store owner shared an emotional story about how the pandemic has devastated her business and said she was so grateful when she found out she got the grant.

A Hartford store owner shared her emotional story of the toll the pandemic has taken on her business as well as downtown Hartford and sheds light on just what help from a grant means. Note: This is sound only.

Jody Morneault has a clothing shop in downtown Hartford and said she and her husband have been living on savings and credit cards because they don't want to close the store.

Morneault said her business, Morneault's Stackpole Moore Tryon, was down more than 80 percent when the pandemic started and now it's down 65 percent. She also said they've had to pivot the business to be online and curbside pick up.

According to Morneault, she feels as though people are afraid to go into clothing stores for some reason amid the pandemic.

An employee of salon that has been impacted by the grants spoke during the the news conference. She was thankful for the grant because she hopes to use it to try and recover some of what the business lost.

She said Headliners Salon in Tolland was closed for almost an entire quarter and they are down 50 percent from where they were last year.

She said the costs of buying things such as personal protective equipment, touchless credit card machines, touchless hand washing stations and disinfectant was staggering at the beginning.

She said they are trying to think of a longer term solution after having to pivot how the business was run since a salon doesn't lend itself to social distancing.

She said she is proud of the salon industry in Connecticut as a whole for stepping up and customers said they have felt safe in the environment amid the pandemic.

Multiple restaurant owners were also on the call to discuss the impact the grants have had for them.

One restaurant owner was Dan Meiser, who owns four restaurants in the state.

"The past nine months have been devastating for my four restaurants and our farm in Stonington," Meiser said.

Two of Meiser's restaurants, the Oyster Club in Mystic and Engine Room in Mystic, were the hardest hit he said, because they were sit down restaurants. Revenue is down about 60 percent at one of the restaurants and about 34 percent at the other he said, and the effects at the two restaurants have been devastating.

Two of his other restaurants, Grass and Bones and Nana's Pizza and Bakery also in Mystic, are more casual and have thrived in the environment of take out, to go and delivery, Meiser said.

Meiser talked about how the bridge grant program was critical for him and other restaurants and he can't stress the importance of what money means for the food industry.

Another restauranteur said she is working on changing her business model to focus on doing to go orders.

Christina FitzGerald is the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Union League Cafe in New Haven. She said the restaurant used to have major traffic at lunch, but since businesses in the city are now working from home, the restaurant is now closed for lunch.

FitzGerald said they tried to open for brunch on Sundays, but when indoor dining closed, that also went with it.

On top of that, FitzGerald said she oversaw 600 events a year and all of that went away with the pandemic.

FitzGerald said she is trying to keep a positive outlook, but usually November and December were the months they used to carry through the slow months of July and August. Last year they lost November and December because of the pandemic so she's unsure what will happen for July and August of this year.

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