DOVER — The city had success helping businesses with loans to assist with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Now it is offering a total of 14 grants worth $3,000 to small businesses. There haven’t been many businesses seeking the grants yet, so the city is looking to spread the word.
The city launched the Dover CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Support) program in April 2020, as a way to provide CARES Act relief dollars to eligible taxpayers, residents, businesses and nonprofits affected by the pandemic.
At first this included property tax relief, financial assistance, resources for housing and food, extended payment plans for water and sewer utilities, waived fees, and loans for small businesses. Through the Dover Business Cares Loan Program, the city provided financial assistance, in the amount of $5,000 each, to 12 businesses last year. Seven of the businesses repaid the loans already, securing 10% forgiveness, according to the city. Parker said this included restaurants from across the board, from restaurants like Ember Wood Fired Grill to service providers like hair salon Amour 24, tattoo shop Rutland Studios and RSP Studio Custom Framing.
“On the business side, we have seen positive responses from folks who utilized the funds,” Assistant City Manager Chris Parker said. “They were able to weather the storm to get to where they’re at today.”
New program offers $3,000 now
The city is offering a new Dover CARES relief grant program targeted to help small and growing businesses through grant funding, instead of the loan program it used previously.
The Microenterprise Business Assistance Grant and Small Business Assistance Grant provide a reimbursement for expenses incurred by the business to respond to Coronavirus or to help offset business disruption.
The grants offer up to $3,000 in assistance to qualifying businesses operating within Dover. The two grants have been available since late May, but there have been far fewer applicants in this round of funding so far, Parker said.
“As part of the new Dover CARES Business Grant Program, we are working through the Economic Development office to spread the word that we have up to $3,000 per applicant, that can be granted to businesses,” Parker said. “We have $42,000, or 14 grants, available and at this point we have one application that is in process for review this week but we anticipate having more applicants.”
The Microenterprise Business Assistance Grant is available to sole proprietorships and small for-profit businesses with five or fewer employees, and the Small Business Assistance Grant is open to small for-profit businesses with two to 15 employees.
“When we look at these applications, we are looking at the viability of the business and the health of the business financially and otherwise,” Parker said. “We are conservative because we want to make sure it’s going to be useful and have a return on the investment by the community.”
Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association, recently spoke with Foster’s Daily Democrat about how restaurants in particular are hurting financially, following the sudden depletion of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund established through the American Rescue Plan Act. While the New Hampshire specific data hasn’t been released by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 105,000 restaurant operators nationwide received the grant, leaving 265,000 in the application pipeline like Roots Vegan Café & Juice Bar in Dover and The Striker in Portsmouth. Somers said that local grant programs like Dover’s are vital in the final stretch of helping restaurants survive, and he urged for “more municipalities to take advantage of the American Rescue Plan allocations set aside to support small businesses and restaurants.”
Parker said that he knows the need is out there, as businesses look for ways to weather continued challenges. He said the city is working to connect with businesses that may be in need of assistance, and urges any business interested in the grants to apply. There are also funds available to members of the community that need assistance due to pandemic-related hardships.
“I think people are still looking at how the future is going to change for them, before trying to accommodate whatever that future looks like,” Parker said. “Any assistance we can give, whether it’s guidance or financial, I think it’s important for us to be an active supporter of the community vitality.”