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Dozens of small businesses in Buena Park to get $10,000 grants

Dozens of small businesses in Buena Park — hair and nail salons, laundromats, print shops and others — soon will get grants of up to $10,000, money that that owners and civic leaders see as lifelines while companies tread water during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of those is Watchland, a watch repair kiosk in Buena Park Mall.

“I’ve never won anything in my life,” owner Allen Garcia said.

“I was really shocked.”

Garcia’s was one of 51 chosen from more than 200 small businesses — up to 10 employees — that will get money as part of the Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program, which was set up by the city to help local entrepreneurs pay rent and other bills until the local economy, frozen by the pandemic, begins to thaw.

First installments of up to $5,000 will be sent out this week.

In different times, winning thousands of dollars in a drawing might be fun. But during a pandemic that has crippled business, it means avoiding bankruptcy, Garcia said.

Watchland, which Garcia runs with his brother, Robert, was in trouble even before the pandemic hit. Last Christmas was slow and, in general, fewer customers were stopping by for watch band adjustments and battery replacements.

His company wasn’t alone. Federal data released Monday shows the U.S. economy slipped into recession in February. That was after coronavirus was known to be spreading worldwide but well before California or other states entered into lockdown mode to slow the spread of disease.

“That just crippled us,” Garcia said of the lockdown.

The brothers’ income disappeared, but bills kept coming. Garcia said he contacted the Small Business Administration for a loan but never heard back, so receiving the grant from Buena Park is a blessing.

The ripple effect of the closures also hurt essential businesses that never shut their doors, and some are getting grants.

Gene Park runs a one-man electronics repair shop, iFIX Smartphone, in an industrial area near Fullerton Municipal Airport. During the shutdown, he said, his business fell by about 40%, as shops around him closed and his customers’ incomes shriveled up.

He couldn’t safely accept walk-ins, so he began to set appointments to control the crowd, limiting routine jobs like repairing cracked phone screens.

“Even though we’re essential, we weren’t open to the public,” Park said. “The doors were closed.”

Park said he’ll use the grant money on inventory — buying replacement parts to make phone and computer repairs.

“No parts, no business,” he said.

Watchland owner Garcia said he plans to spend the money primarily on rent and possibly on new merchandise.

In March, Buena Park deferred commercial rent, first pushing back bills till May 31, then till July 28.

City officials have said most of the 51 grant recipients, which also include a bar, a pharmacy and a dentist, are expected to use the money on rent once the citywide deferral ends.

Having to pay four months worth of rent will hit many businesses hard, said Buena Park Councilwoman Youngsun “Sunny” Park.

She said the grant recipients represent a good cross-section of the city’s small businesses.

“Everybody’s suffering, so we try to help anybody we can, whether it’s a big amount or small amount, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “$2,000 for a small business owner, it means a month of rent … $10,000 could be enough for them to get back on their feet.”

But while Councilwoman Park is pleased the extra cash helps some, many others still are struggling, even as closure rules are relaxed and storefronts are invited to reopen.

The councilwoman represents District 1, on the city’s north side. She said while visiting businesses in her district, owners and managers were frustrated by the new costs of complying with rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 upon reopening.

Some owners don’t have the money for personal protective equipment; they’re already barely making ends meet, she said.

Businesses that didn’t receive Buena Park’s grant should keep an eye out for other programs that are in the works by the county Board of Supervisors, the councilwoman said.

To qualify for a grant, companies had to show how COVID-19 took a toll on the business, including those considered non-essential during the state’s stay-at-home order or whose sales were down more than 25% in February compared to the previous three months.

Businesses also qualified if they laid off at least one employee during the pandemic.

Buena Park partnered with the Small Business Development Center to form and implement the grant program. Funding came from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted in late March.

Source: Orange County Register

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