When the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello knew that it would be a challenging time for community business owners.  To help keep local innovators and entrepreneurs afloat, the County Executive created an Emergency Small Business Assistance loan program in partnership with the Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation (MCIDC) and the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA).

“Our small businesses are suffering from the loss of working capital due to circumstances beyond their control, and it’s important we do all we can to help employers and their employees make it through this crisis,” said County Executive Bello. “By offering no-interest loans of up to $10,000, we are helping support the vital small businesses that serve as this region’s economic engine through their time of greatest need.”

With the assistance of the Emergency Loans, as well as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources provided by Monroe County, local businesses are proving that they are resilient, creative and ready to navigate the changing economic landscape.

A Unique Loan Program for Unprecedented Times

In March of 2020, the County Executive and his team introduced the Emergency Small Business Assistance Loan Program. This zero-interest loan program was the first of its kind in New York State and launched before emergency federal support became available through the CARES Act. Two million dollars in loan funding for Monroe County businesses by the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA) and the Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation (MCIDC) was allocated for the program.

Business owners like Toni Marie Allocco from Maxim Spa & Salon called the loan “a godsend.” She appreciated that the Monroe County loan had “a simple application process and everything was written down already. You knew when your first payment was going to be and how much it was.” Other entrepreneurs were grateful because the loan “bought us time, and that’s all we needed,” as Frank Miccoli of JustEgress explained. “We needed time for the powers that be to educate us on how things would have to move forward, how we could protect customers and staff and remain in business. This loan was the right thing at the right time.”

In addition to the emergency loan fund, Monroe County also assisted businesses by providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Rochester Community Acupuncture and Maxim Spa & Salon received face shields, masks, gloves, and sanitizer from the County Health Department. Toni from Maxim was grateful to receive PPE for her business since demand was high, but supply was limited: “there was a lot of mandatory sanitation and PPE items that we had to have in order to open, but you couldn’t find them anywhere. The County has been amazing in providing those things.”

Navigating the Pandemic & Getting Creative

Monroe County is known for its diligent and creative entrepreneurs. The Emergency Loans helped business owners to stay open, find innovative solutions to immediate problems and pivot their business models if necessary.

Rochester Community Acupuncture, a clinic that aims to make acupuncture affordable for the community, closed from March until mid-June, furloughing all employees. Their landlord allowed them to pay half of their rent while the business was shut down, but Rochester Community Acupuncture leadership was still required to pay the second half upon reopening. Co-owner Janeane Munn explained that the emergency loan from Monroe County: “was immensely helpful in covering rent.”

The Cottage Hotel of Mendon, a restaurant usually known for their live music and neighborhood atmosphere, was able to shift to curbside takeout. It has been difficult to balance fair wages and sensitive pricing while maintaining a profit margin, but owner Hilary Stott is making it work.  She shared that the Monroe County Emergency Loan her business received: “kept me alive and helped me cover payroll.”

ThermApparel, a designer and manufacturer of cooling products for people with neurological and autoimmune disorders, remained open, but faced significant disruptions to their supply chain. Since workers had to spread out to comply with social distancing guidelines, their rate of production slowed. CEO Kurtis Kracke called the County’s Emergency Loan: “tremendous […] it gave us a little bit of a cash cushion in a time when things were really difficult.”

Farmhouse Table Food, a full-service catering company, got innovative when the pandemic hit. Within a week of the shutdown, they shifted from catering weddings to operating a weekly meal program where customers could order dinners ahead for delivery or pickup. They also planned and launched a successful partnership with Blue Barn Cidery where they are responsible for all food service at the cidery. Owner and Chef Mike Hasenhauer explained that the Monroe County Emergency Loan was essential to maintaining Farmhouse Table’s core group of employees: “In the food business, if you end up with a team of people you trust and share a common vision with, you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.” The loan helped keep that team on the payroll. He added, “It was a quick process, the money came through fast, and it was vital for keeping things rolling.”

The event planning industry has also been hard hit, but entrepreneurs like Rich Cranston of Encore Events adapted quickly. Many brides rescheduled their weddings due to the pandemic, affecting 92% of the firm’s bookings. Encore started offering a unique package for these strange times: a micro-streaming ceremony service, through which they stream small weddings to couples’ friends and relatives across the country. For Cranston, the Emergency Loan: “let me sleep at night.” He shared that the Monroe County loan “was one of the quickest turnaround times we had. It provided immediate cash flow relief.”

 What’s Next?

A consistent message that resonated with many of these businesses was hope. Our enduring sense of community and determined spirit will lead the way forward.

Janeane Munn of Rochester Community Acupuncture described her attitude as “cautiously optimistic.” She said, “I know it’s a long road ahead for recovery… But Rochester has a great, supportive community and we’re all doing what we can to support the businesses we love.”

Mike Hasenhauer from Farmhouse Table Food called COVID-19 “a bump in the road.” In his view, “as a small business owner, there’s no shortage of challenges. Each challenge is an obstacle with a solution, and we just have to find it.”

Monroe County will continue to take the lead on initiatives to help regional businesses, their employees and their families. We are here to support you.