April 7, 2021

Resiliency Fund Was a Lifesaver For Many Local Small Businesses

By Anne Levin

At a meeting of the Princeton Merchants Association last week, the organization’s president Jack Morrison reported that all but one of the 90 $5,000 grants made available by the Princeton Small Business Resiliency Fund (PSBRF) over the past year had been issued.

In two separate rounds, the funds have gone to independently owned shops, restaurants, hair salons, and other businesses to help them weather the pandemic. Most have survived; some have not.

“A handful of them aren’t there anymore,” said John Goedecke of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, who with Peter Dawson oversaw management of the application process and distribution of the funds. “Some on Chambers Street, where the [Graduate] hotel is going in, have had to move. We haven’t asked them to follow up with us, but through the Chamber relationship, we have stayed in touch.”

Last week, Christine Curnan, the Chamber’s vice president for membership and business development, heard back from several business owners asked how the grants had affected them. Jacqui Arce of Pure Barre on Hulfish wrote that her grant went toward renovation of the HVAC system to include an air purifier, which cost about $7,000. Lisa Ruddy of Princeton Soup & Sandwich Company on Palmer Square East said the grant helped bring back staff, buy heat lamps and cushions for outdoor dining, and offset fees associated with online ordering.

Paul Shu of Holsome Teas and Herbs on Witherspoon Street wrote that the $5,000 enabled him to create a new website. “We are now on the way to recovery and the future looks promising,” he said. “If there is anything I can contribute to the Foundation, let me know.”

Hinkson’s on Spring Street used the grant to help with rent, payroll, and utilities. “With our business down an average of 35 percent in 2020, every dollar has helped keep our doors open,” wrote owner Andrew Mangone. Adding that while residents have made an effort to buy local, he would like to see the same commitment from other businesses. “We are also grateful for the businesses that do use us: jaZams, Labyrinth, Momo brothers, Kristine’s, and Witherspoon Grill,” he wrote.

Grit + Polish salon on Witherspoon Street was less fortunate. While the $5,000 helped keep the doors open two months longer than would have been possible otherwise, owner Jacqueline Fay had to close at the end of October, she wrote. Christine DiDonato of Bella Boutique in Princeton Shopping Center had some dark days, but the grant gave her “a strong beam of light,” she wrote. DiDonato used the funds for sanitizing, which allowed customers to try on clothing, something they could not do in larger stores.

Princeton University provided the seed funding and matching funds to start the Resiliency Fund process last June. The goal was to provide emergency assistance for independently owned small business located in the municipality, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The program, a collaborative effort with the municipality and the Chamber Foundation, was formally launched with the University’s $250,000 contribution, which provided a dollar-for-dollar match of up to the next $100,000 in additional contributions to the fund.  A second round was launched in November.

From the beginning, it was decided that every successful applicant should receive the same amount. “We agreed that if you meet the criteria, you get $5,000,” said Goedecke. “That allowed us to move as quickly as we could. While it might not have moved the needle for a larger business as for a smaller one, we thought all of these merchants were deserving. We didn’t want to dole out lesser amounts to smaller businesses.”

For Theodora Codlington, owner of Theo’s  of Princeton Salon at 236 Nassau Street for the past 19 years, the grant allowed her to pay her rent. “We were hanging on, but the rent is high,” she said. “I was shocked when I got it, because I’m not sophisticated with the computer. In Princeton, they should have help for people who have trouble with that. But, by the grace of God, I pushed the right buttons and got it done. So I’m happy. We’re going to come back and come back strong.”