Lori Williams, left, and her daughter Melissa Trickey, owners of Flowers by Renee in Chandler, were one of 264 businesses that received financial assistance from the city to help keep employees on staff. (Photo: Courtesy of Lori Williams)

Lori Williams and her daughter Melissa Trickey weren’t sure their south Chandler flower shop would be able to survive the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Hospitals and clinics, one of their biggest sources of revenue, closed their doors to vendors early on to help curb the spread of the virus. Weddings and parties were being canceled and retail sales dropped.

“Especially in those early months … our future was a bit uncertain,” Trickey said. “We were fortunate enough to keep the doors open, but it was a struggle.”

The business received a federal loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which helped them stay afloat for a while. But with continued slow sales, they needed additional help.

In August, Trickey saw on Facebook that Chandler was offering grants to small businesses in the city affected by COVID-19. Small businesses could apply for up to $10,000 in financial assistance to help retain and hire employees.

It was just the sort of help the business, Flowers by Renee, needed to keep its nine employees on staff. They applied and received $7,800.

“This money means we can continue to serve our community and serve our employees,” Trickey said. “Having been here for such a long time we have customers who call us routinely, folks who we’ve worked with for such a long time, and this has really enabled us to continue to do business and keep us alive when others haven’t been that fortunate.”

Flowers by Renee, at Alma School and Queen Creek roads, is one of about 265 businesses that have been awarded funding through the city’s “I Choose Chandler Business Hiring and Retention” program.

The city is using $9.5 million of the nearly $30 million in federal relief funding it received for the grant. More than $2 million has been approved so far for businesses in sectors most affected by the health crisis, such as restaurants, retail shops and hotels.

Now the city is expanding the program to five more sectors, including service industries such as nail salons and barbershops and companies that provide educational services.

Applications are due by 4 p.m. on Oct. 5.

Program draws hundreds

The program received a lot of interest during the initial application period, from Aug. 17 to Sept. 7.

The Arizona Community Foundation, which is administering it, received 374 applications, according to the city.

Another 90 applications were in progress when the application period closed.

The foundation has disbursed more than $1.6 million to 200 businesses, and another $445,400 has been approved for 64 businesses and will be issued soon.

Fewer than 40 of the 374 completed applications were declined. The most common reason an application was denied was that the business was not in a qualifying sector. However, many of those businesses now may be eligible under the expanded program, the city said.

The Arizona Community Foundation will continue to review the remaining applications that were submitted during the first batch and distribute funding if approved.

Chandler also is reimbursing small businesses up to $500 for the purchase of personal protective equipment. The city set aside $200,000 for the program and so far has awarded about $80,800 to 170 applicants, according to the city.

City expands program

The program was initially limited to six sectors hardest hit by COVID-19, such as accommodations and food service, retail trade, arts and entertainment and organizations providing social assistance to people.

Businesses in these areas can still apply for the grant.

The grant is now available to businesses in an additional five areas:

  • Services, including automotive repair, barbershops, nail salons and dry cleaners.
  • Construction.
  • Professional, scientific and technical services, such as law offices, accounting and tax preparation firms, marketing agencies and veterinary services.
  • Wholesalers that sell merchandise to other businesses and not the general public.
  • Education services, including sports and recreation instruction such as martial arts and gymnastics, tutoring and cosmetology schools.

To qualify, businesses must be privately owned, employ 100 or fewer people, have been in business before March 11 and be registered with the city’s tax and license division.

They must own or lease property in the city and commit to remaining in Chandler through the end of the year, if they lease their space. Home-based businesses don’t qualify.

Businesses can receive $1,300 per employee retained or hired since Dec. 31, 2019. The total amount awarded is calculated based on the number of full-time equivalent employees. Two part-time employees can qualify as one full-time employee.

Awards are capped at $10,000 per business.

Grants are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the funding is issued on a rolling basis.

Williams said the process was simple. They applied for funding Aug. 17 when the application opened and were approved about a week later.  

She has referred three businesses to the program, and each has received funding. She encouraged others to apply.

“This has been a phenomenal opportunity for us,” Williams said.

Applications can be submitted online at Businesses are required to submit tax and other financial records.

More information about the program and other business assistance can be found on the city’s COVID-19 resource page.

Reach reporter Paulina Pineda at [email protected] or 480-389-9637. Follow her on Twitter: @paulinapineda22.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to today.

Read or Share this story: