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$98,650 distributed to 22 regional small businesses

David Floyd • May 22, 2020 at 8:03 AM

With an extra $2,500 in hand, the owners of Timber, 415 W. Walnut St. in Johnson City, can feel a little more confident as they get ready to reopen for no-contact takeout next week.

The restaurant temporarily closed several weeks ago as a precaution against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“In the grand scheme of things, a lot of people might feel like $2,500 really isn’t that much, but for a small business like ours, it’s absolutely huge,” said co-owner Nathan Brand. “That’s the equivalent of several days of revenue, theoretically, in this new world. It’s extremely helpful.”

The organizers of a local, donation-supported small business relief fund announced the distribution of $98,650 in grants on Thursday, with $42,650 going to companies in Northeast Tennessee and $56,000 going to those in Virginia.

The Local Business Recovery Fund, an initiative supported by local chambers of commerce and economic development entities, is a pool of money designed to assist small businesses struggling because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The money will be distributed to a total of 22 businesses across the region. 

Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol TN/VA Chamber of Commerce, said there’s still a huge need for business support right now, noting that organizers received 217 applications for grant funding in less than a month.

“There’s never enough money to go around,” Rhinehart said. “Everyone has tremendous need, and that’s the difficult part of this is not being able to do more than what we have, but we know what we are doing is making a difference.”

Organizers are still accepting donations, and they’re planning another round of distributions within the next three weeks. Rhinehart said organizers do not yet know how much will be awarded at that time.

Businesses can continue to submit applications at any point, but to be considered in the next round of funding, they need to have everything in by Friday. Rhinehart said organizers will continue to distribute grants as long as money keeps coming in.

There’s currently about $65,000 left in the fund, but other potential donors are considering gifts.

Small businesses in specific sectors with 50 or fewer employees are eligible to apply. Those sectors include arts, entertainment or recreation, accommodation and food services, retail trade and manufacturing.

Businesses must be located in Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia. Eligible locations include Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties in Tennessee, and Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise counties and the independent cities of Norton and Bristol in Virginia.

Donations can be submitted online at regionahead.com, the website for the Appalachian Highlands Economic Aid Directory. Individuals can also mail checks to Local Business Recovery Fund, 603 E. Market St., Johnson City TN 37601.

Information about how to apply for funding is also available on the website.

Challenging times

The mental load of operating a restaurant is the same whether it’s closed or open, Brand said.

“Being closed for these past few weeks has been just as stressful and difficult as if we were open and had those kinds of problems to solve,” he said, noting small businesses like his still have fixed costs like rent and utilities. “Yeah, we didn’t buy any product that we sold to our guests, but we still had other bills.”

$2,500 will go a long way, he said, noting that it will help the restaurant rebuild its inventory.

Additionally, Brand said the pandemic has shown some of the “inherent problems” in the restaurant industry.

“The pay is just terrible, the margins make doing business extremely difficult, the vast majority of restaurants fail within the first year,” he said.

He’s hoping Timber can come out of the pandemic stronger, tapping other potential revenue streams. That could include selling artisan staples like baguettes, wheels of cheese or salami.

Brand added that not all of the restaurant’s original employees will be returning when it reopens. He said some have moved away and others have taken jobs in other industries.

“As the news worsened and as things progressed and people’s lives were irreversibly impacted, they’ve made decisions to leave the industry entirely, to move in with their parents to save money on rent,” Brand said. “All those kinds of things. That is really hard.”

Tennessee Local Business Recovery Fund recipients include: Best Uniform Center in Kingsport; Express AV in Bristol; Hair Additions in Johnson City; Jump TN in Greeneville; Pine Street Hospitality (doing business as Timber) in Johnson City; Appalachian Light & Production in Telford; Nolichucky Gorge Campground in Erwin; Union Street Taproom in Erwin; and We Run Events in Bristol.

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