Carlos Ventura said he has dreamed of this moment: running his own barbershop in Norwich with his wife.
"It is a blessing," said Ventura, who used to own a barbershop in the Dominican Republic before he moved to Connecticut in 2018.
"It still held a piece of his heart," said Brendaliz Ventura, Carlos's wife. "He always said that this is something that he wanted."
This summer the couple found a storefront in the Taftville section of Norwich, but before they could move in and make Ventura's dream a reality, they needed to do a lot of work just to bring the building up to code.
"We had to completely gut the place out," said Brendaliz.
The Venturas said they also had a pipe burst when they first started to move-in, which cost them even more.
Their situation is not unique in Norwich. According to the city's economic development agency, the Norwich Community Development Corporation (NCDC), the majority of the empty storefronts in the city require a lot of work to make them move-in ready.
"A lot of these buildings are historical buildings and a lot of them have gone untended for some time," said Kevin Brown, president of NCDC.
The city has been working on addressing those challenges for years with various revitalization efforts. Now, those efforts are receiving a boost thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
According to Brown, Norwich received about $14 million in ARP funding; $2 million of that funding will go to NCDC.
Brown explained that the funding will be used used to help revitalize the city by providing opportunities for landlords to improve their properties and for potential retail tenants to occupy a move-in ready space.
NCDC's plans for the ARP funding will build off of past revitalization programs in the city.
"It's important to note, though, this time around we are not just focused on the downtown. The American Rescue Plan monies will help us do this same work of revitalizing and re-landscaping throughout the entire City of Norwich," said Brown.
According to Brown, NCDC is still determining the rule set, pre-qualifications, and application process for the program. He hopes to be in a place to solicit applications from landlords and tenants by January.
In the meantime, Brown said they learned of the Ventura Barbershop and were able to issue the first grant from their ARP allocation to the owners of the barbershop. They awarded the new business a $10,000 grant.
"It was an easy call to help someone who was in one of the most impacted industry segments due to Covid," said Brown. "Here they were, fully committed to building out a business on the backside of the pandemic. That is exactly what the ARP dollars are supposed to focus on and do."
Ventura said he is overwhelmed by the support. He said he hopes he can be an example for other people in the city to follow their dreams.
Brendaliz said she hopes the funding can help other businesses in the city get started as well.
"We have been swimming hard through some deep waters," said Brendaliz Ventura. "It's been a little bit of a lifesaver thrown at us."
Brown said the story of the barbershop is what they hope to accomplish throughout all of Norwich with the ARP funding.
While NCDC is still determining the rule sets for the ARP dollars, they encourage any landlords or tenants to begin reaching out to them now if they are interested.