Derby Dinner exterior (copy)

Derby Dinner Playhouse was one of 22 Clarksville small businesses that received COVID-19 assistance in the spring. The town is one of three Southern Indiana municipalities to be awarded during a second round of funding announced Thursday.

CLARK COUNTY — Three Clark County municipalities will receive state grants that will bring a total of $750,000 to help Southern Indiana businesses affected by COVID-19.

Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch announced Thursday more than $10 million in funding through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs to 42 cities, towns or counties across the state in phase two of a program funded by the Coronavirus Relief, Aid and Response Act.

Charlestown, Clarksville and Jeffersonville will each receive $250,000, which can be given to small businesses in awards of up to $10,000.

“I think it’s a huge much-needed assistance for many of our businesses,” Charlestown Mayor Treva Hodges said, adding that many of the businesses that were forced to close at the start of the pandemic include hair salons and restaurants that weren’t able to adapt easily to takeout-only options required then.

“We don’t have the huge retail that Jeffersonville and Clarksville and some of these other communities that were awarded do, [so] this truly helps our local mom-and-pop places. They’re the foundation of the entire economy in Charlestown, so it’s huge.”

The first round of funding announced in April provided $10.7 million to 61 areas in Indiana, including $250,000 to Clarksville for job retention and $50,000 to Floyd County to aid in providing food and supplies to homeless and elderly residents.

In that round, Clarksville was able to help 22 small businesses retain 292 employees, through funding of between $2,500 and $50,000.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our Hoosier economy and they have made considerable sacrifices during the COVID-19 crisis.” Crouch said. “This funding will help Hoosier small businesses continue to recover and will help make investments necessary to create safer spaces for their customers and staff.”

One of those Clarksville businesses receiving help was local theater Derby Dinner Playhouse, which used the funds mostly for personal protective equipment and other equipment and supplies to maintain safety, including UV lighting to sanitize dressing room areas. The business received separate assistance through the paycheck protection program to pay its staff of 100 to 120.

“It was a great plus for us,” manager and owner Cynthia Knopp said of the OCRA grant. “Most of our employees are lower wage, and, in the entertainment industry our business has been cut by 50%. We’re lucky to even be open.”

Derby Dinner had a softer reopening in June, with official reopening July 7. To abide by safety regulations, they now can seat about 200 people, not the 540 pre-pandemic. They also worked during the closure to improve safety such as removing tablecloths and the buffet area.

To show their appreciation to everyone who had helped them get the previous round of funding, Knopp said the staff made a video of thanks.

“It was a major overhaul for us; we’re glad to be open,” she said. “That was a great help.”

Nic Langford, redevelopment associate with the Town of Clarksville, said the initial response to the funding had been “overwhelmingly positive” and said he plans to go out contacting businesses to let them know about this new phase of available funding. Business owners can apply through a short Survey Monkey and their applications will be reviewed by a five-member committee that includes representatives from the town and local economic and workforce development firms.

He said they plan to prioritize funding this round on businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

He added that while he’s glad there is some assistance available, he knows it’s just making a dent in some cases.

“Receiving $10,000 through this pandemic, when you’re employing 10 or 15 people, it’s really just a drop in the bucket,” he said. “This will help a little bit — it’s about as much as we can do right now — it definitely helps but in my opinion it’s a drop in the bucket.”

Indiana District-71 Rep. Rita Fleming said she had supported the measure, and was glad to see the list of Southern Indiana areas receiving the grants grow in this second phase.

“[I’m] so really glad that we are to finally get what I think is well-deserved and we’ll just continue our economic recovery and growth,” Fleming said. “That’s a substantial amount of money.”

She said the support is crucial because of the polarization of effects to businesses during the pandemic.

“It’s very, very important because we’ve seen two things,” Fleming said. “We’ve seen some business thrive because they happen to be in a market where what they sell or the kind of services they offer are needed in this pandemic.

“But on the other hand we’ve seen a lot, especially entertainment industries, restaurants, even florists, folks like that that have not done well and have struggled to survive.”

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