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Local Businesses Receive Millions in State COVID-19 Grants

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
David and Theresa Hanna have owned local gift store Bell Cottage for nearly 14 years. The Magnolia Park business received a COVID-19 relief grant from the state in April — a much-needed boost during the pandemic.

A California program for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic has given more than $5 million in grants to Burbank companies and contractors, recently released data shows.

More than 450 Burbank small businesses — including nonprofits, sole proprietorships and independent contractors — that grossed between $1,000 and $2.5 million in the 2019 tax year received grants from the state’s COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant program, which was announced in early December.

Businesses can use those funds to pay for payroll expenses, rent, utilities and costs connected with complying with COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as testing, personal protective equipment and outdoor dining setups.

According to data published by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Burbank entities have received nearly $5.07 million in grants of up to $25,000. Though the data is the most recently compiled, it includes only businesses that received grants in program rounds one, two and three; the program closed applications for round six in early May.

Theresa Hanna, who owns the gift store Bell Cottage on West Magnolia Boulevard along with her husband, David, called the grant to the business “a gift from the heavens.”

“It doesn’t make all the problems go away, but it definitely helped take the pressure off, at least for a short time, and you can’t beat that,” she said.

Being closed due to the pandemic was difficult for the small business, Hanna added, because though the doors were shut, bills still had to be paid. Bell Cottage kept afloat with its online sales and has reopened to in-person shopping, though Hanna noted there’s not much business on weekdays.

Though the grants helped companies like Hanna’s pay their expenses, some local business owners said they felt the aid was only a drop in the bucket compared to their costs.

Ani Davtyan, owner of hair salon iColorHair on North Hollywood Way, said that she doesn’t exactly recall getting the grant but that the $15,000 state records say her business received isn’t nearly enough, considering the rent and other bills she has to pay.

“It’s ridiculous,” Davtyan said. “Nothing compares to a year of being closed.”

With Los Angeles County restrictions easing, she added, business is beginning to pick up again. And as an independent contractor with no employees and few funding options, she needs that business; most federal Payroll Protection Program relief loan money early in the pandemic went to larger companies.

SALONS, RESTAURANTS GET MOST GRANTS

Across the three rounds of the state relief grant program, personal care businesses — such as hair and nail salons — received the most funding and the higher number of grants in Burbank, with 105 entities getting a total of $1 million. More than half of those businesses received $5,000 grants, with most of the remainder receiving disbursements of $15,000.

Restaurants received a total of $745,000 across 44 businesses — the second-highest local figure for both funds and number of grants disbursed.

Motion picture production studios and movie theaters received the third-highest amount of funds in Burbank — $460,000. However, they received the fifth-highest number of grants, 33.

Taxi and limousine services, which include Uber and Lyft drivers, received the third-highest number of grants and the fourth-largest amount for Burbank. Nearly 40 such drivers and companies received a total of $305,000 in state relief grants.

Freelance artists, writers and performers were the industry group that received the fifth-largest sum of money, $300,000. The group received a similar number of grants as did studios and theaters — 33.

Combined, the state disbursed more funds to those five sectors in Burbank than the more than 60 other industries combined.

Only a few nonprofit organizations received grants in the first three rounds of the state program, but Barbara Howell, CEO of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said the funds “made a huge difference.”

BTAC hasn’t been able to hold its crucial fundraising events, including its spring gala, Howell said, explaining that the nonprofit is primarily funded by private donations. Because of this, she added, the grant money came in at a key time.

“Months and weeks go by, and you don’t hear anything,” Howell said. “And then you get a phone call.”

Besides helping pay for utility and other operational costs, the $25,000 BTAC received also freed up some of its own funds, which themselves were put toward helping clients pay their own rent bills.

BTAC received its grant in mid-April, during the third round of grant funding, Howell said. At nearly $2.77 million given, the third round of the program provided more money to local businesses than the first two rounds combined, due to an influx of funds allocated to the initiative after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a relief package in February.

And the funds could see another boost. Last week, Newsom announced a proposal to expand the relief program by $1.5 billion, which could bring that initiative’s total to $4 billion. The program is part of Newsom’s California Comeback Plan, which itself is a major component of his $267.8 billion budget proposal to the California Legislature.

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