Downtown businesses awarded mini grants
Despite challenging times, many business owners in downtown Dover are smiling broadly after the community came together to support them through the Downtown Dover Partnership’s auction May 2. Combined with anonymous donations, the auction raised $26,000, including $3,500 from Unlock the Block, a program of NCALL’s Restoring Central Dover initiative.
Now, several merchants have been awarded mini grants from those funds. As of May 29, 21 merchants each received $1,100 to help fill financial needs since closing March 16. Sales have averaged 91% less than sales during this time last year, merchants said.
The merchants could request funds to reimburse items or services recently purchased or as an advance for goods or services needed immediately. For clothing retailers, which have been closed for more than two months, spring attire is now out of season.
Maxine Lewis, owner of Maxine’s Fashions, will use her funds to update her inventory for summer. Many merchants agreed that the mini grants would be helpful, saying, “This will help ease the pain caused by the lockdown” and “this will help cover utilities” or “allow us to pay rent for next month.”
Another common theme among merchants was gratitude. Diana Welch, owner of the Gray Fox Grille on State Street, will reopen Friday, June 5. “Although COVID-19 has been a tremendous challenge, it has brought out the best in the Dover community,” she said. “The outpouring of support and assistance demonstrated by people and businesses in downtown Dover has been truly inspiring.”
Hassan Azhar, owner of Zuha Trend, chose to use his mini grant to update his interior with a new cash wrap cabinet. “We at Zuha Trend are very thankful for all the support we have received from DDP and its supporters,” he said. “Thanks to you, we are able to reopen with a fresh look to our customers.”
Brooks Millican, owner of Brooks Men’s Salon, expressed deep appreciation. “This is a great idea for all the merchants as well as everyone coming together to support and help downtown. The generosity is greatly appreciated,” he said.
Will Grimes, neighborhood revitalization coordinator for NCALL, said he has been thrilled to see the process unfold. “Our economic development working group [that implements the Unlock the Block program] is committed to supporting downtown Dover’s small business community and this was a perfect opportunity to help them stabilize during this unforeseen situation,” he said.
Diane Laird, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership, and Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, serve as co-chairs of the working group. They agreed that this investment filled a very specific need, bridging a gap in sales revenues between March and June’s reopening. The Unlock the Block team of business resource partners reviewed merchant applications and denied none.
Seventeen merchants picked up their checks at the DDP office May 27. Many posted notes of gratitude on their Facebook pages, and one even delivered donuts to the DDP staff.
Tina Bradbury, operations manager for the Downtown Dover Partnership and founder of the auction, was humbled by the outcome of the auction and the response, including out-of-state supporters.
“The outpouring of support and love that was shown by the community actually proved that I am in the right job. Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life!” Bradbury said.
Bradbury’s colleague and partner in the initiative, Brynn Voshell, enjoyed seeing the community and strangers alike coming together to help support our local small businesses. “In all honesty, I was not sure how much we could pull off in just ten days of planning, but the outcome surpassed my expectations,” she said.
Looking ahead to the reopening of downtown businesses, Bradbury is requesting that members of the community continue the spirit of giving through the Downtown Dover Gratitude Wall. People can send messages of appreciation to Bradbury, and they will be converted into posters and placed in downtown windows.
“Take this opportunity to thank someone for something that they’ve done for you during this pandemic, an experience or even something intangible,” Bradbury said. “You can express your appreciation to people close to you or even complete strangers and you can feel free to send multiple messages...the more, the merrier!”
Messages should be emailed to email@example.com or phoned in to 302-678-2940 by Friday, June 5.