Some Austin businesses get coronavirus grants, many more need help

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — At Kick Butt Coffee, they’re pouring fewer cups these days. The regular live performances that brought a lot of money to the business have turned into virtual benefits.

“On a good day, we have only a 50% drop [in revenue],” said owner and founder Thomas Gohring.

Main Street has been decimated by a lack of foot traffic during the coronavirus pandemic. Bars, restaurants and live music venues have especially suffered.

In response, the City of Austin allocated $16.5 million in relief grants for struggling small businesses. The recipients have already been selected, and we’re learning more about who was selected.

There were two sources of money through the program, one that would provide small businesses with grants up to $40,000, and another that was dedicated for PPE, worker safety and COVID-19 compliance.

For the former, half of the recipients were scored based on equity, need, location and annual revenue, among other factors. The other half were chosen at random through a lottery.

Kick Butt Coffee was not selected. It received an award letter from the city with the news that it would get $29.94 for PPE reimbursements.

Gohring says he won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but also acknowledged for his and many other businesses, that amount of money wouldn’t make a difference.

“I’m not the loan ranger here, so there’s plenty of other businesses that may have a greater need than we do,” he said.

New data released by the city shows some local businesses were awarded $40,000 and other five-figure totals. Many others were awarded far less, mostly for PPE expenses.

It has prompted some who weren’t selected for a grant to wonder if the application process was worth it. One business owner called it an “expensive waste of time” after he spent five hours applying and paid $100.00 to an accountant for help. In the end, that business owner would get around $300.00.

An email to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials expresses the dire situation many local businesses are finding themselves in.

“Too many bars, restaurants and coffee shops got sucker punched by D.C. not passing any legislation in the beginning of August, and they are losing their spirit to fight,” said Adam Orman, owner of the restaurant L’Oca d’Oro.

“The Small Business Relief Grants did not reach nearly enough folks in substantial enough numbers, and we are desperate for some good news and some bold leadership to get us to the end of 2020.”

The email suggests leveraging other city funding sources, including convention center expansion funds.

“We need some help if we’re going to be able to keep it going,” said Orman.

Mayor Adler said in a statement to KXAN:

“Restaurants and bars desperately need help. They’re among the first to close and will be among the last to open—and fully. They, along with artists, musicians, hotels and hotel workers as well as child care facilities, need substantial aid to survive. The scale of the help needed goes beyond anything the City can provide, and we are trying to get the federal government to act. What we’re doing locally is a lot, but not enough. We need help.”

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