Small Business Relief Fund Running Dry After Helping Hundreds
As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the local, national and global economy, small businesses in Tuscaloosa continue to receive financial relief thanks to the City of Tuscaloosa’s $1 million donation to the Small Business Relief Fund.
Part of Mayor Walt Maddox's "Restart Tuscaloosa" plan, the donation injected $1 million into a fund operated by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the Community Foundation of West Alabama meant to directly assist entrepreneurs struggling to survive losses in revenue caused by the pandemic.
"We knew that some businesses, especially our most vulnerable small businesses already operate on thin margins anyway," said Jim Page, President and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. "If they were going to be forced to shut down or see a reduction of foot traffic, we knew that could potentially put some businesses out of business."
Page said the Small Business Relief Fund has received around $1.16 million of both private and public funds to help the cause. Around 300 Alabama businesses have received awards from the SBRF, allowing local businesses to pay some of their "essential fixed costs" like rent or utilities.
"We had a lot of businesses in this community that really took it hard," Page said. "Not only were shut down completely or partially like a lot of our restaurants, but when the [University of Alabama] went to remote learning in the spring and we had a huge percentage of our population leave the community, a lot of buying power was taken away. Plus, a lot of people in the community were uncomfortable getting out and spending money. In some way or sort of fashion every small business has been affected by this.”
Page said that around 90 percent of the City’s $1 million donation to the relief fund has already been awarded to local businesses and that the council has put out a “last call” for applications that will end on July 31.
“I’ve been humbled by the number of individuals who have contributed to the fund,” Page said. “We’ve had corporate contributions, as much as $50,000 from Bryant Bank and The Regions Foundation… we’ve had individuals give $5 to $10 just because they want to see small businesses get helped. So, it’s really been a community effort.”