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Every little bit helps when your business is on the line

Almost 600 Jackson County businesses received $5.3 million from state and local sources over the past year to help them survive the financial fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Every little bit helps to keep the dream alive,” said Natasha Hopkins, owner of The Rogue Grape.

Her business received $3,000 from the city of Medford and another $8,600 from a state program administered by Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.

SOREDI administered $4.8 million in assistance to 456 businesses in Jackson and Josephine counties, with 366 in Jackson County.

The money was part of a $55 million financial package authorized by Gov. Kate Brown under the CARES Act.

In addition, Medford passed out $500,000 to 134 businesses over the past year. The city used marijuana tax money to finance the program.

Medford offered another assistance program in January, when 81 businesses received up to $5,000.

The city also provided $100,000 to social service organizations to help them deal with the pandemic.

Other government programs also helped businesses deal with their red ink, including the federal Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program.

Hopkins said she used the money she received from Medford and the CARES Act to keep up on her lease payments and utilities.

She said she attempted to reopen, but COVID restrictions meant it was actually cheaper for her Medford business to remain closed.

One of her employees got COVID after Hopkins briefly tried offering patio dining.

It was still a struggle for Hopkins to remain in business, and it cost her $4,800 a month in expenses while she was closed.

“I didn’t think it was fair to walk away from it, and I prayed for help,” she said. “Out of the blue, I got a call from the owner of Bigham Knoll. This opportunity kind of fell into my lap.”

The Jacksonville location will allow her to set up a wine bar without any food, which lessens her expenses. She is able to bring back one key employee to help out.

Colleen Padilla, executive director of SOREDI, said her organization received 1,106 applications, and her staff processed them all while working remotely, though many didn’t qualify.

Those receiving money qualified based on certain priorities, such as the business’s inability to reopen because of COVID rules or because they could open only with limited capacity, such as a restaurant.

Many of the applications weren’t filled out correctly, and others didn’t provide sufficient information to qualify. Startups couldn’t provide enough financial data to show they were suffering losses.

“There were a lot of people who were upset they didn’t get anything,” she said. “Easily the need was closer to $10 million.”

Padilla said the $1.9 trillion funding package signed by President Joe Biden will bring more money to enable local business to regain their financial footing. She said the impacts of the pandemic have been felt across many sectors.

“The pandemic has had crazy effects on companies, not just retailers,” she said. “There are many literally not knowing how they could pay their bills next month.”

A Central Point bakery that received assistance sent SOREDI an email that said, “My thanks extends beyond words.”

Padilla said that the assistance has helped many small businesses survive.

“There is a gratefulness that they get to survive a little bit longer,” she said. “It’s helped them sustain themselves and hopefully recover employees.”

Medford’s assistance program helped businesses directly impacted by the pandemic, such as bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, indoor gyms and fitness establishments.

Sometimes that extra assistance can be emotional for a business owner.

“One woman said she couldn’t access the forms, and we helped her access the form, and she was crying on the phone,” said Kristina Johnsen, communications and marketing manager for the city.

The money helped businesses with rent or mortgage payments, utilities or payroll.

Scott Brechtel, who owns the Artisan Bakery Cafe with his wife, said he got $3,000 from the city to help with his $4,400-a-month rent.

“Every little bit helped during that time,” he said.

He has since downsized his business so that instead of renting two suites in his Center Drive location he rents only one.

“We’re more of a grab-and-go affair now with a few tables,” he said.

Brechtel said he recently received approval for the federal Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program to help keep workers employed.

“I was signing up for everything and anything,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

“Every little bit helps to keep the dream alive,” said Natasha Hopkins, owner of The Rogue Grape, who received $3,000 from the city of Medford and $8,600 from a state program during the pandemic. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune