Martinez city leaders have approved moving ahead to offer grants of up to $5,000 to qualifying local businesses as part of a program that would also beef up efforts to market those businesses and make physical “beautification” improvements in the city’s commercial areas.
The plan unanimously approved last week was a more robust version of what City Council members on Jan. 6 had asked staff members to research. The city will use $300,000 from the city’s general fund to offer small business relief microgrants of up to $5,000. The money will be released in three phases of $100,000, in part to allow a chance to correct glitches in the earliest efforts.
An additional $25,000 will go to creating a COVID-19 marketing program to attract shoppers during the pandemic, especially with local events like the popular “King of the County” barbecue competition, the annual “Martini Shake-Off,” wine stroll and brew-crawl gatherings and other in-person events that draw people to the city on hold because of the pandemic. Another $25,000 will be designated for physical beautification measures that could include replanting trees and restoring the Main Street Plaza kiosk.
Council members said the beautification effort, conceived as a downtown project, should include commercial clusters throughout the city, and not just the downtown. And so should the promotional efforts, Councilmember Mark Ross said.
“It should be an overarching effort for Marinez for the long haul,” Ross said. “We want to bring people back to Martinez to dine when that time comes.”
Added Mayor Rob Schroder, “This is a real opportunity for Martinez to market itself.”
Under the Martinez microgrant program, independent retail businesses, restaurant/bar/coffee shops and personal services businesses including salons, spas and fitness businesses would be eligible to apply. Franchise owners could qualify, as well.
Not eligible, said Zach Seal, a city senior analyst, will be grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, cannabis businesses, smoke shops and auto-related businesses, which he said have not suffered as much under COVID-19 as have the categories chosen for eligibility. Also not eligible, Seal said, will be home-based businesses and nonprofits.
As under similar grant programs established recently in other cities, applicants in Martinez will have to “demonstrate economic injury” because of COVID-19, be small, independently owned businesses with at least one brick-and-mortar storefront in Martinez. Some other specifics, including maximum number of employees and what constitutes a “chain,” still must be ironed out.
And assuming enough businesses submit qualifying applications to ensure the entire $300,000 will be spoken for, the successful applicants will likely be chosen via a lottery.
Seal told the council a survey including 112 local businesses — 54 of them downtown — showed 86 percent of them have generated “much less” in gross sales than before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and that 96 percent of them say a microgrant is needed, and soon.
Councilmembers said they hope money is in the hands of business owners in a month or so.