Small retailers in Muskegon offered grant support, including for COVID-related struggles

MUSKEGON, MI – Small retailers looking to get started in Muskegon, or struggling with the effects of COVID-19, are being offered grant support through the city.

The city of Muskegon recently developed four grant programs to help existing businesses facing hardships due to the pandemic and assist potential retailers get established in the city.

The grants are for up to $5,000 each and require varying amounts of matching funds.

They fall into two categories: rent and renovation assistance for existing retailers and for new retailers.

“We wanted to offer something to help create a stronger local retail base in the city,” said Mike Franzak, Muskegon’s director of planning. “We know how hard it is for small retailers to make it now because of online shopping.”

The initial idea for the grants was to “to rebuild the downtown with cool retail options,” Franzak said. But the support has been extended to other areas of the city as well.

Though the downtown has vacant buildings, they aren’t necessarily ready to host small retailers, Franzak said. Renovation grants to help prepare retail space are available to building owners – not just retailers themselves.

Another grant focused on rent assistance, like that provided in other communities, will help those hoping to establish their first businesses “get their feet under them,” Franzak said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created another set of challenges for those already in business, including how to pay rent and provide enough space to accommodate social distancing requirements. So other grants address those issues.

To qualify, businesses must be in the city of Muskegon.

Applicants can contact the city’s planning department for more information by calling 231-724-6702. Details about each grant, as well as an application form, are available on the city’s website.

Here’s a rundown of each available grant:

CV Rental Assistance Grant

This grant is to help existing retailers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic pay their monthly rent. The grant will pay 75 percent of monthly rent up to a total of $5,000.

To be eligible, a retail business must employ fewer than six people, pay no more than $12/square foot in rent, be in a location that is visible from the street, prove its need for financial assistance, and be able to demonstrate it lost more than 50 percent of its business due to COVID-19 operating restrictions or health impacts.

CV Capital Grant

This grant helps existing retailers make renovations in response to new distancing guidelines and reduced capacity due to COVID-19. It will reimburse up to 75 percent of expenses up to $5,000.

To be eligible, a retailer must employ fewer than six people, be in a storefront visible from the street and demonstrate financial need.

Rental Assistance Grant

This grant pays half the monthly rent, up to $5,000, for new small retailers.

Eligible applicants must employ fewer than six people, be paying no more than $12 per square foot in rent, prove financial need and not operate any other businesses in the city. The grant also is available for “micro-retailers” operating in locations of less than 300 square fee that relocate to a larger space.

Retail Renovation Grant

This grant helps with the creation of new rentable retail spaces for small businesses. It will reimburse half of renovation costs up to $5,000.

To be eligible, the applicant must renovate a building into retail space that is visible from the street and rents for no more than $12 per square foot.

Related: Muskegon’s $195K gift card coronavirus relief effort ‘unlawful,’ attorney says

Many restaurants, which are not eligible for these grants, earlier received a boost from the city through a gift card purchasing program. Under that program, implemented in March, $195,000 in gift cards were purchased from 39 Muskegon businesses, mostly restaurants.

The purchases, which ranged from $3,000 to $7,000 per establishment, were implemented by Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson without city commission approval. A later review determined they violated city policy. Some recipients, including Rake Beer Project and Skeetown Tavern, said the cash infusion was critical to their survival.

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