The City of Walla Walla began distributing the $250,000 from their Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) fund to 220 local small businesses on Oct. 30. The city chose to allocate small awards so that every eligible small business that applied could receive some funding.
Deputy City Manager Elizabeth Chamberlain explained that Walla Walla received $500,000 in the second round of CARES funding from Washington’s Department of Commerce because Walla Walla is too small to receive direct funding from the federal government.
In order to qualify for this grant, businesses had to be located within the city limits and employ less than 50 people. The grant was open to any company that fit these requirements, including sole proprietorships and non-profits. The online application was one page and available in both English and Spanish.
Applications were reviewed by two members from the Chamber of Commerce and three members on the City Council Finance Committee. They were judged on three criteria: number of employees, if the reviewers felt the business was already substantially funded through another grant and how important the business is to the overall economy of Walla Walla.
Chamberlain explained that the city decided to award small grant amounts so that they could spread the money as far as possible. Every business that applied and met the requirements received some grant money, which ranged from $500 to $2,500.
“We announced the awards via email and did a press release [on Oct. 30], and I would say that the response from the businesses has been an overwhelming thank you. They say every little bit helps,” Chamberlain said. “Even though the city did go with smaller amounts, everyone has been extremely grateful that they were able to get some grant funding.”
Gillian Lall, founder of Sivana Day Spa and Boutique, is extremely grateful for this grant because she doesn’t qualify for most other grants. She doesn’t meet the requirements for most small business grants because her business is less than a year old and she is the only employee. Lall plans to put the money towards her rent.
Lall opened Sivana just six months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she emphasized the stress of keeping her young business open. She says that some days she’s lucky just to see one person come into the store.
“Having invested so much of our personal savings into a business that I had just started six months prior to the COVID-19 quarantine is depressing,” Lall said in an email to The Wire. “The thought ‘should I continue’ in these times did cross my mind… but I guess COVID-19 has made us fighters and gamblers alike.”
Rachel and Kory Nagler opened the Pine Cone Creamery this September, but have been feeling the effects of COVID-19 on their business long before officially opening. Lockdown forced them to halt construction on their shop. The Naglers also needed to put all of their effort into their other restaurant, The Maple Counter. This pause forced them to open Pine Cone Creamery after Labor Day, which is when sales begin to slow for ice cream shops.
“We are at a huge disadvantage going into the winter months. All of our capital has gone to construction and start-up costs,” Rachel Nagler wrote in an email to The Wire. “The financial burden of opening in the fall, instead of spring or summer, is going to be a very big challenge for us.”
The Naglers emphasized how much this grant will help them through winter. They plan to put it towards rent and payroll, two of their biggest expenses.
Timothy Christie, founder and artistic director of the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival, explained that COVID-19 has had a particularly devastating impact on the performing arts. Christie was forced to cancel their June season, which contained the bulk of the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival’s programming. This means that they lost $80,000 in ticket sales.
As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, the business relies heavily on ticket sales and donations from customers. To combat the loss of ticket sales, the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival is offering monthly online classes and concerts. Christie plans to use the grant money on technological equipment that can be used to record and produce these online classes and performances.
“We’re grateful [to] the City of Walla Walla for making the grant opportunities available,” Christie said. “It is an example of initiative on the city’s part to try to inject some financial stimulus into things that are really important to the community.”