Juanita Austin describes the last nine months as a "roller coaster."
Her performance art space, lounge and art gallery, Cultured Studios, was forced to close in the early months of the pandemic. By April, her team left their storefront on State Street permanently.
"Making that decision was tough, but I knew that we would bounce back eventually," said Austin, creative director of Cultured Studios.
Bounce back, they did.
In December, Cultured Studios found a new storefront to call home on State Street. They were able to move-in thanks, in part, to help from a new city program.
Austin was accepted into New London's Pop-Up Marketplace program. Using CARES Act funds, the city developed the program to help draw new businesses during the pandemic.
"The timing worked out perfectly," said Austin. "I don't know where we would be at now if it wasn't for this program."
The funds provide short-term rental-reduction assistance for the first three months of a new lease up to $400 a month. The city works to connect the business with a landlord, help develop a business plan and fill an empty storefront in the process.
"We are really hoping that our businesses survive this and we are here to do whatever we can to make sure that happens," said Felix Reyes, director of economic development and planning for the city. “It is a balancing act between those that need help and those that need help growing.”
Title IX: A Pop-up by Bank Square Books also participated in the program. The bookstore is located in the Garde's cottage building, next door to the Garde Arts Center.
"The reception has been so great," said Annie Philbrick, owner of the shop.
Philbrick owns Bank Square Books in Mystic and Savoy Bookshop and Cafe in Westerly.
She said that people have been asking her to open a location in New London for quite some time, but she was not planning on opening the store until she learned of the Pop-Up Marketplace program.
"We would not have gone looking to open a third store during the pandemic without the help of the city, the encouragement from the Garde and the rest of the people in New London, to have a bookstore come to them," said Philbrick.
Philbrick said that the books in the store are curated with the community in mind. Olivia Dodd, who manages Title IX, said that they have a diverse collection. It is her goal that anyone who walks into the store can find a book to enjoy.
New London is also using federal funding to support a second round of its Small Business Emergency Relief Grant (SERG) program. The city issued funding in its first round of the program earlier in the pandemic, helping a little more than 40 businesses.
The next phase of funding involves a smaller amount of CARES Act money. $57,000 will be used to provide short-term assistance for utility bills. The grants will range from $500 to $1,500 for small businesses based on need, according to a press release from the city.
"It is something that we felt the small business really needed at this point," said Reyes.