Willoughby Hills has economic relief for its small businesses | Lake County

William Arsn

Amid the novel coronavirus, small businesses in Willoughby Hills have the opportunity for some economic relief.

The Willoughby Hills City Council has approved legislation to offer small businesses in the city the opportunity to receive a reimbursement of up to $2,000 each for coronavirus-related expenses. The reimbursement is on a first-come, first-serve basis until the $100,000 that has been allocated has been distributed. 

All seven council members voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance. Councilmen Dan Zegarac and Mike Kline served to develop the program guidelines and eligibility.

To qualify, small businesses need to be able to show that they’ve purchased personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, face masks or shields, hand and surface sanitizer, towels, disinfectant wipes and construction of installation of plexiglass or floor markings, Zegarac said.

“It’s a real good idea because when businesses reopened, they were faced with the task of conducting business in a different way,” he said. “This will help the mom and pop stores, small distributors and businesses that serve the public. It’ll give them relief.” 

According to the ordinance, all items, whether they’re cleaning supplies, face masks, business enhancements for social distancing or infrared thermometers, must be purchased between March 1 and Sept. 30. Businesses must meet the criteria set forth on the 17-page application. 

Zegarac and Kline intend to reach out to all eligible Willoughby Hills small businesses and email them an application, which is due Sept. 30. The application is also available on the city’s website. 

“I got excited about this when we started receiving the CARES benefits,” Zegarac said. “To know there was a possibility to help small businesses got me excited because I know small business employees.”

In addition to the small business and apartment grant funding, the city has used CRF funds for personal protective equipment for its city safety forces, service department and administration to keep the employees safe.

Mayor Andy Gardner has approved funds for technology for emergency response, health monitoring, work at home enhancements, facility safety and communications.

“Our businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic and this is a way where we’re helping our businesses but also keeping people safe,” Gardner said. “By providing these grants, they can help their businesses be safer, help their customers and their employees be safer and help us stop the spread of the virus.” 

In addition, a large percentage of Willoughby Hills’ residents live in apartments, Gardner said.

“Since it started, we’ve been worried about the potential for spread there, so again, it’s another win-win,” he said. “We went to the apartment owners and it’s a great way to help use the CARES Act money at a grassroots level.” 

All five apartment complexes — Bishop Park, Willoughby Hills Towers, Pine Ridge, Willoughby Hills Senior Apartments and Mary Rose Estates – were visited by city officials. The city also is continuing to seek ways to allocate these funds for long-term safety of its employees, residents and businesses. 

“As businesses had to shut down starting with the governor’s order, it was obvious that it had the potential to be devastating,” Kline said. “Some essential businesses kept going. Others were able to open back up on some limited basis. Some were able to operate out of their homes.” 

Kline said that as a former CPA with his own practice and another second business to run, he could only empathize with everyone and the impact of the shutdown. In total, there are roughly 250 businesses of varying sizes in Willoughby Hills. 

“When we put this program together, we said we want to concentrate on small businesses operating in Willoughby Hills,” Kline said. “We would exclude major chains and others that have dozens and dozens of locations. By calling those out, the number came down to still above 200 and we would be thrilled to convince every business to put a claim in.” 

From the feedback he is hearing so far, there is a lot of interest by the businesses in this program, Kline said. Businesses are being encouraged not to take too much time to apply for the reimbursement. 

“There is $100,000, so we’d like to see everyone comply,” Kline said. “We’re encouraging everyone to apply and even though the cost runs through September, we think the businesses should apply as soon as they can.” 

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