Which Bridgeport businesses are receiving thousands of COVID aids?


BRIDGEPORT – Sonia Noyse, who runs 16-year-old Jamaican restaurant Sonia’s Kitchen on Reservoir Avenue, was not intimately involved in the steps he took to seek part of the $ 5 million in federal aid to coronaviruses distributed to small businesses by the city Hall.

This task was assumed by his daughter.

But Noyse has had no trouble talking about what she plans to do with her $ 10,000 windfall.

“I’ll fix my place with this, trust me,” Noyse said.

When it was announced that Bridgeport would receive $ 110 million from the $ 1.9 trillion U.S. COVID-19 bailout approved by federal lawmakers earlier this year to bolster the pandemic economy, elected officials here decided to Prioritize sharing approximately $ 25 million with local nonprofits and businesses.

And this month, after announcing the dozens of nonprofits that had qualified following a candidate review process, Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration released an initial list of more. of 400 establishments – Sonia’s Kitchen included – receiving up to $ 10,000 for business expansion / improvement efforts and up to $ 25,000 to redesign their storefronts / properties.

The recipients on this list represent the wide variety of entities providing goods and services in Connecticut’s largest city: restaurants, bars, cafes, various grocery and other stores, hairdressers, contractors, lawyers, tax experts and real estate agents. , automobile, limousine and taxi services, doctors and daycares.

The list of eligible applicants also included entertainment venues such as boat clubs, the downtown Stress Factory comedy club, the new Park City Music Hall, the Mind Factory escape game site, and the bar. Scruples.

“As long as they met the criteria to be based in Bridgeport and open for over 18 months, to have their papers in order, their taxes paid, as long as they achieved those marks, we were quite inclined to help them.” said City Councilor Scott Burns.

Burns was a member of the 12-member review panel responsible for reviewing corporate grant documents. This group has finished with a few other qualifying establishments expected to be announced.

“I need every penny right now,” Noyse said. “We all need it right now.”

Ganim’s assistant Tom Gaudett, along with his administrative staff colleagues Constance Vickers and Nikka Olofson, were closely involved in overseeing the application and review process. He said 495 establishments had applied, 420 had so far been approved, 37 refused and 38 pending.

Burns said there should be a ripple effect, not only to improve Bridgeport’s physical appearance, but because, he said, applicants needed to get bids for their proposals and, in de many cases turned to other local businesses.

“So there’s going to be a very positive multiplier effect,” Burns said. “A lot of the money stays here.”

Nick Roussas is the owner of Frankie’s Diner on Barnum Avenue, which qualified for full grants of $ 10,000 and $ 25,000.

“It’s a great way to end the year,” said Roussas, who, in addition to the public health challenges of feeding clients during a global pandemic, is struggling with staff and staff shortages. supply.

Some of its fundraising priorities include renovating the restaurant’s parking lot and modernizing its brand.

“I’m very happy for everyone who got it, including myself. Now we can fix things that were long overdue, ”Roussas said.

Charles Cameron lost his Turn N Headz hair and beauty salon on Madison Avenue in April to a fire and “makes house calls” as he prepares to open a new store on Boston Avenue.

“Oh wow. That’s great,” Cameron told a reporter from Hearst Connecticut, admitting he was behind in checking correspondence and was not yet sure he would receive all 35. $ 000 in COVID assistance. “This is a big help.”

Fifth State, an Asylum Street-based distillery, also qualified for $ 35,000. After COVID-19 hit Connecticut in mid-March 2020, forcing many businesses to temporarily shut down and the public to stay at home in an effort to stop the spread of the disease, owners Bridget and Rob Schulten walked away. are turned to the manufacture of disinfectant.

“It helped us keep the lights on,” Bridget Schulten said this week of this temporary pivot. “(But) we’ve lost a lot of weight in our spirits business. “

Increasing Fifth State’s spirits-making capabilities and making its exterior more attractive – the facility is located in a mixed industrial / light residential neighborhood – are priorities.

“The outdoors, we know, is extremely important when people are driving to your house,” Schulten said.

Michele Torres, whose 28-year-old Harbourview Market family and all-new Park City Music Hall will collectively receive nearly $ 70,000, said the application process was “important,” so she’s happy that worth it. many.

“Obviously we’ve already spent a ton of money on Park City Music Hall this year,” Torres said. The Fairfield Avenue site replaces the Acoustic Cafe which closed in 2020.

“And Harborview needed new windows and a new patio… with an overhang or something to protect from the elements,” Torres said. “Money is welcome.”

Gaudett said town hall has sought to speed up the process of issuing the checks. Establishments that receive business development funds will receive everything up front, while storefront improvement money recipients will receive half up front.

“Once they have been notified that they have been awarded, the company has to get us a contract, a (form) to become a municipal seller and an invoice billing us for the amount,” Gaudett said. “Once they did these things, we made a request (for payment). A typical seller in town has to wait 30 days for payment. … We set aside someone part-time in finance to specifically handle the cutting of these checks so that they would be available within a few days.

“No other community is where we are to put money in the hands of those in need. that, ”boasted City Councilor Ernie Newton, who also sat on the committee. “It was a good opportunity.”

There were complaints earlier this year when it took months for the Ganim administration to distribute just $ 1 million in federal COVID small business aid announced in the spring of 2020. City hall has sought to pull the plugs. lessons from that experience when it came to distributing the $ 25 million.

“So we sped everything up as best we could,” said Gaudett.

Burns also said he was confident the small business committee had done a good job reviewing the hundreds of applications and that there would be follow-up to ensure funds are spent as intended.

“But nothing is infallible,” he admitted.

Earlier this fall, two West Haven employees were arrested by the FBI for allegedly funneling more than $ 636,000 in federal coronavirus aid to a shell company they controlled. And later questions were raised about West Haven’s use of funds to pay for other things like a marching band and Christmas decorations.

“We made it clear to future beneficiaries that we were going to look for receipts for the storefront improvements, look for physical changes. There will be defined follow-up, ”Burns said. “There are cases where city employees have (already) gone to visit a site or talk to the owner and made sure everything was what they were trying to do.”

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