Denton County's OPEN Grants help small businesses survive

The county funded the first round of OPEN Grants with CoServ Capital Credits

Denton County's OPEN Grants help small businesses survive

 

By NICHOLAS SAKELARIS | CoServ

COVID-19 ravaged small businesses in North Texas this spring with lost jobs and shutdowns prompted by quarantine restrictions. Restaurants were hit particularly hard, as catering jobs stopped and dine-in options were put on hold.

In The Colony, Flat Iron Grill owner Jason Crandall improvised by providing carry-out orders of his famous smoked meats. It took a while for word-of-mouth to build up; in the meantime, he still had utility bills and rent to pay. 

Jason, a CoServ Member, was thrilled to hear about Denton County’s OPEN Grant program, which offered up to $10,000 to small businesses. He applied in May and was one of 451 grant recipients out of more than 1,300 applicants.

One of the main funding sources for the $3 million program was 20 years’ worth of CoServ Capital Credits retirements that Denton County had set aside for a rainy day. In addition, the online grant application portal used WizeHive software originally licensed to CoServ for CoServ Charitable Foundation grant applicants.

“When WizeHive heard about this plan, they stepped up immediately to help us out,” said Vicki Sargent, CoServ’s Director of Community Engagement. “We thank them for their quick work in setting up this portal for Denton County businesses.”

Denton County Judge Andy Eads was thankful, as well.

“We greatly appreciate CoServ’s assistance with helping us develop the application,” he said. “CoServ has always been a good partner to the county.”

Jason also received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan. “Between those two grants, it will keep me afloat until the end of the year,” he said. “Hopefully things pick up before that.”

Denton Gymnastics Academy shut down for nearly three months, but it could take much longer for the business to recover.

“It’s going to be a very gradual thing, maybe toward the end of the summer we’ll be back where we were,” said Office Manager Sorin Lazar. “Some parents are more open to that idea, and some it’s exactly the opposite.”

Many families are hurting financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic and can’t afford to take their children to gymnastics lessons.

“The services we offer are not essential so if people have disposable income, it’s something they will do for their kids,” Sorin said. “The better the economy, the better these small businesses are going to do.”

That’s why programs like the OPEN Grants are so needed. Denton Gymnastics has seven employees and bills to pay, whether they are fully open or not.

“At this point, any help is a good thing,” Sorin said.

Dr. Steven Robillard saw his Flower Mound chiropractic business plummet when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. Despite staying open as an essential business, appointments dwindled to one or two per day. 

On June 12, the president and CEO of Back to Health Chiropractic found out he would receive an OPEN Grant. He said the application process was easy and the terms and conditions were easy to follow.

“The OPEN Grant was fantastic. It really helped,” Steven said.

The CoServ Member took the extra step to write a letter of thanks – not only to county leaders but to CoServ, as well, for an “amazing financial blessing.”

“I just felt it was necessary to thank the people who were responsible,” he said. “People are quick to complain about something, and they’re very slow to really give praise. That’s really why I wrote the letter.”

Embroidery Junction owner Margaret Thomas held out hope that her and her husband’s business would be deemed “essential” because they embroider logos for essential workers, including first responders.

Unfortunately, they were deemed a non-essential business and had to close for more than a month, which meant they had to let several employees go. Embroidery Junction is an institution in The Colony, founded in the Thomas’ home in 1991 and becoming so big that they obtained their own space in 1996.

They received an OPEN Grant and have since brought on some part-time workers. 

“It will definitely keep us open a few more months,” Margaret said. “We’ll use it toward salaries and rent, and we have a piece of equipment that we’re leasing.”

The program was so successful that in June, Denton County launched a second round of grants using funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act.

“We know this has been a difficult period for many,” Judge Eads said. “And we hope this is just the beginning of our efforts to help in the recovery of our local economy.”

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