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City of St. Petersburg expands eligibility for business assistance program

All industries, locally owned franchises and home-based businesses are now eligible.

ST. PETERSBURG — Think of the Fighting Chance Fund like a target, said Jessica Eilerman, the mayor’s small business liaison. With each round, the grant program has added another ring of eligible business owners. 

The first round included St. Petersburg bars, restaurants, retail and service industry businesses owned by city residents with no more than 25 employees. The second round opened up the grants to tour operators and travel agencies and removed the residency requirement for the business owner. 

Now, in the third round, a much broader set of small businesses in the city whose revenue has been negatively affected by the ongoing pandemic will be allowed to apply for the grants.

The third round of the fund has opened up grants to companies from all industries and allows franchise affiliates that are locally owned and operated to apply. Home-based businesses also are now allowed to request funding, as are brick and mortar stores with no more than 50 employees.

Eilerman said the city wanted to take a macro-level approach in the third phase by broadening the grant to all industries. With the ongoing pandemic, all sectors have been affected, she said.

“It’s really impacted the total economy and so business as usual is not happening,” Eilerman said.

In the initial round of the fund, announced by Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration in early April, eligible businesses could apply for $5,000 grants. The grant amounts have shifted since then, with brick and mortar stores eligible for $4,000 awards and home-based businesses eligible to receive $2,000.

The Fighting Chance Fund awarded grants to 764 businesses and 1,100 individuals in rounds one and two combined. By Wednesday around 5 p.m., 141 brick and mortar stores and 99 home-based businesses had submitted applications for phase three grants, Eilerman said. The application for this round opened Tuesday morning.

Debbie Safko of Paciugo Gelato & Caffè on Beach Drive said she planned to submit an application after being informed by a Tampa Bay Times reporter that locally owned franchises could now receive awards. Safko originally submitted an application in the initial phase of the fund, but the business was rejected for being a franchise. She said she hopes to use the grant to help with payroll and that she’s had to cut down employee hours.

“We don’t have as much business,” she explained.

However, not all businesses that were initially excluded plan to apply for grants. Savory Spice Shop was not originally eligible because it is a franchise. However, owner Paul Bailey said he’s been able to pay rent, so he’s not going to request any funds.

“Right now, I’m actually doing okay and there are others out there that need it more than I do,” he said.

So far, St. Petersburg has given away $4 million of the $6.8 million it originally earmarked for the fund. The remaining funds will be combined with $550,000 in donations from community members to supply funding for third phase grants.

Businesses who originally applied for a grant and were rejected must reapply. Requests for funds “will be processed in a first come, first complete manner while funds remain,” according to the city of St. Petersburg website. A webinar discussing the application process is available online.

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