Some Grand Junction businesses in the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic are operating more confidently thanks to the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber awarded its first round of the COVID-19 Business Assistance Grant to five locally-owned businesses: Triple Play Records, Sola Salon, Mesa Theater, First Class Travel and Warehouse 2565 Kitchen and Bar. The microgrants were funded by donations from Mesa County and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“We had a net loss of 600 businesses in the Great Recession, so this is meant to be a neighbor-helping-neighbor situation,” said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. “This was a first come, first serve basis because of our limited funds. We’re hoping that now that the word is out, the private sector will step up and donate.”
Each of the five recipients were awarded between $3,000 and $5,000. Businesses had to apply online and meet with someone with the chamber to lay out how they will use the funds.
It was the first time that Rick Christensen, general manager of the Mesa Theater, had ever applied for a grant. The streamlined process and meeting with C.J. Rhyne, director of business retention & expansion with the Chamber, made path to the $3,500 award a breeze.
“The Chamber was really helpful,” Christensen said. “Anything they give me is good. I would have even been thrilled with $500.”
Christensen said that the money is going straight to insurance payments for the venue. Concerts have vanished from venue calendars. Mesa Theater has adapted by booking more comedians with a 150 seat capacity, Christen said. But they try to not book to full capacity to mitigate chances of an outbreak.
“We have more people working than usual for mask checks and cleaning, about eight employees per night,” Christensen said. “With our limited capacity, it costs more to do less.”
First Class Travel was in dire need of its $3,500 grant. Travel halted when the pandemic hit and the industry has struggled to rebound.
“We have just been slaughtered. When the pandemic hit, people began cancelling left and right,” said Vonnie Hicks, owner and travel agent at First Class Travel. “People don’t understand that travel agents are paid by commission, so we don’t get paid until they make their trip. We still had to work to cancel all of those trips.
“This grant will help us get to next month.”
The next round of grants will go out when the Chamber has enough funds from donations to distribute, Schwenke said. Businesses can apply online or donate through the Chamber’s website via the services tab.