October 28, 2020

Second Round of Resiliency Fund To Begin Accepting Applications

By Anne Levin

A second round of funding for Princeton businesses struggling through the pandemic was welcome news to owners of stores and restaurants attending last week’s Virtual Business Forum, held by the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA). The Princeton Small Business Resiliency Fund will once again accept applications starting November 1 for grants of up to $5,000.

The announcement came at the end of a meeting that also focused on issues related to staying open during the winter months, and the possibility of a weekend winter village in early December.

The initial round of funding distributed last month granted 70 businesses with $5,000 each. Princeton University, the founding donor, had pledged $250,000 and an additional dollar for dollar match to the first $100,000 received from additional donors. More than $100,000 was contributed by Stark and Stark, the Sands Foundation, Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s, and FirstBank, among others.

With more than $100,000 remaining in the fund, it was decided to reopen the application process. According to information given at the meeting, applications will be reviewed and approved on a first-come, first-served basis. There is enough for up to 22 grants for qualifying businesses in Princeton.

Some of the requirements have been changed for the second round. The original grants asked for a credit score of 650, but that is being waived. “Those one or two businesses that applied and were denied, you don’t have to reapply,” said Chip Jerry, who chaired the grant review committee. “Also, some new businesses have opened, so you no longer have to have been in business here since December 2019.”

The grants provide assistance with the costs associated with reopening and adjusting to current guidelines for conducting business. They can be used for expenses such as cleaning and sanitation supplies, technology and connectivity needs, making changes to accommodate social distancing, and marketing and communications.

No businesses awarded funds in the first round will be considered at this time. The application portal will close once the funds are depleted. The fund is a collaboration between the University, the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the municipality.

For the complete list of eligibility requirements and information on how to apply, visit https://www.princetonresiliencyfund.org/grant-criteria.

Also at the meeting, restaurant and store owners on Witherspoon Street were asked to let the town’s Public Works Department know by early November if they plan to keep serving customers outside during the winter months. For any that do not, barriers that were put up last spring to accommodate outdoor dining will be removed to recover some parking spaces.

Princeton’s Fire Official Joseph Novak spoke about heating elements that are safe for use by restaurants for outdoor dining. Tents must be commercial grade. “We had a couple that were essentially plastic tarps, and we had to nix that,” Novak said. “If you rent a commercial tent, they give you an external heater that is ducted into the tent, and a propane tank feeds that heater and is blown into the tent. The concern with something along those lines is you have to make sure the propane can’t be tampered with.”

Situations can be looked at on a case-by-case basis. “I feel for you guys,” Novak said. “I know it is not an easy time for businesses. We’ll do everything we can to work with everything and keep you guys afloat.”

Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros broached the idea of a two-day winter market the first weekend in December. Artisans and craftspersons, possibly working with the Arts Council of Princeton, would offer items in huts scattered through town, much like the annual Winter Village in Manhattan’s Bryant Park. “We need to have people feel safe in coming to local stores and restaurants, and we need to activate the streets,” she said.

While some merchants expressed enthusiasm for the idea, others were concerned that the artisans would take business away from local stores. Lambros asked merchants to let the PMA know if they are interested. This week, Mayor Liz Lempert said that idea is still being explored.

“We’ve heard some concerns and some excitement,” Lempert said. “For the holidays, we are also working on some temporary landscaping for some of the tree wells, where trees had to be removed, on Nassau Street. And we are continuing to work with merchants to make sure they are able to stay out successfully when the weather turns cold. I think there is good, open communication there now. The municipal staff has tried to be accommodating. We know it’s a tough period. And we know it’s safer to be outside than inside. So to the degree we can facilitate that, we want to be doing that.”