Atlanta opens applications for small businesses grants

Joe Jordan, 82, owner of Cato Shoe Repair, answers a phone call from a customer inside his store in Atlanta. He and his wife, Hattie, have been repairing shoes since the 1960s. In addition to shoes, they work on belts, purses, luggage and more. Atlanta has just opened applications for a program that would give grants to small businesses struggling with coronavirus-related costs. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO

Applications are open for more than $18 million in small business grants in the city of Atlanta.

Invest Atlanta expects to distribute more than 350 grants using federal CARES Act money beginning in September. The application period closes Aug. 31.

The grants of up to $40,000 are meant to reimburse small businesses for expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as structural changes to make social distancing easier. The city is also giving those businesses that receive grants up to an additional $10,000 for help with business plan updates, marketing, legal aid or other technical assistance.

The fund is part of the $88 million Atlanta received in CARES Act funding, money that must be spent by the end of the year to help relieve the burden of the pandemic.

Applications opened Monday and by Tuesday more than 200 businesses had begun the application process.

Eloisa Klementich, the president and CEO of Invest Atlanta, said the agency has sent more than 16,000 postcards to Atlanta businesses to let them know about the program. They also include information about two $1,000 grant programs for people who work in cosmetology or creative industries.

“We know there’s huge demand,” she said.

Invest Atlanta has put ads on MARTA buses and shelters and hosted webinars — another is planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday — to try to get the word out about the money. While some local governments that received direct allocations have already begun distributions, Klementich said Invest Atlanta had to work quickly to set up a program after Atlanta leaders agreed to allocate the money in mid-June.

“We have to create a program, we have to do all this trust and verify,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure no one abuses it.”

The city had already allocated $1.5 million in small business loans to 57 businesses; those may be converted to grants. DeKalb County on Tuesday approved its own $15 million loan program.

Klementich said it’s particularly important because a study from Oxford Economics suggested as many as 20% of the city’s businesses could close and Atlanta could lose more than 500,000 jobs by the end of the year, compared to the end of 2019. The city won’t know the full extent of the issues the city’s business community faces until next year, when business license renewals are due.

The grants are available to businesses that have had an active Atlanta business license since at least March 1, 2019, have 250 employees or fewer and have demonstrated a business interruption. Some industries — like finance and adult entertainment — aren’t eligible for the grants. Neither are people who work for Invest Atlanta or the city, but have their own businesses on the side.

Klementich said the program’s goal was to help longtime Atlanta businesses reopen if they closed because of the pandemic, as well as ensure that those that were still open were able to continue operating.

She said she hopes to return as little money as possible to the federal government.

“We wanted to take a second to think this through,” she said of the time it took to set up the program. “We have to make sure everything is just perfect.”