SOUTHERN INDIANA — A new round of relief for small businesses in four Southern Indiana municipalities is on its way, as many still struggle with the hits taken over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charlestown, Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany have each been awarded $250,000 in the third phase of grants from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
Clarksville and New Albany’s grants are designed to help small businesses with 100 or fewer employees and will be capped at $10,000 per accepted business. Jeffersonville’s funds will help small businesses with 51% or more of their staff considered low- or moderate-income retain their jobs. Charlestown will use its piece to help establish a grant program to assist local businesses with working capital and to support a temporary social worker position to act as a community liaison in mental health issues.
Nic Langford, redevelopment director in Clarksville, said the cash will be a much-needed push to help businesses make changes to comply with new sanitation procedures, pay staff and maintain overall operations.
“This is another pot of money that we’re going to be able to help them out,” Langford said. “It’s never enough, and especially when so many businesses were forced to shutter or just [feel] the COVID blow.
“Maybe they did all of their sales in person and now they have to learn how to do everything online or over the phone. It’s thrown a lot of these small businesses for a loop and its taken a while to keep them going.”
For William Savoy, owner of Savoy Fitness in south Clarksville, this third round of funding could mean additional support for the blows the pandemic has dealt his business over the past year.
Savoy, who played football at the University of Louisville, opened the Clarksville location in 2015 soon after graduation, adding a second location in Elizabethtown, Ky. three years later.
The company focuses on boot camp and CrossFit for adults and sports performance training for elementary, middle and high school students — a model that traditionally requires in-person classes with the hundreds of clients he has between the Clarksville and Elizabethtown, Ky. locations.
“Before the pandemic, I could have 12 to 15 to 18 per class on particular days,” Savoy said. “The kids’ class was a little more packed...it was a huge difference before COVID.”
But gyms were not considered essential businesses under restrictions put in place last spring by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. In late March, Savoy had to temporarily close his doors to the public; he was able to reopen the Clarksville location in early June.
“It was hard for me as a business owner because now you have to invent a system to go virtual and communicate that to your over 200 clients,” he said, adding that another challenge was in clients being willing to pay for the same services that at that time could only be online.
“I had to communicate that to two states to please don’t freeze your membership because this is the only thing that we’re allowed to do,” he said. “We’re not allowed to do classes. This is the only option.”
Savoy also had to temporarily lay off around 10 part-time employees of the 14 overall. He said they all had full-time jobs in addition to their work there.
The second hit came in fall, as a second wave of coronavirus infections rose during flu season, and when schools were focusing a lot on virtual learning models.
Business is on the mend. Savoy has been able to bring back all of his staff and regained some of the roughly 40% of clients he lost at one point during the past year. But he’s still got to make up for those lost months, which included not only missing revenue from current clients but also no new clients.
“We’re still seeing some COVID issues,” he said. “It’s gotten better but it’s not what it was in 2019, based on our numbers and our amount of clients.”
“I’m grateful to be in business but it’s not quite where it needs to be. It’s getting better though. I’m speaking from a positive aspect, it’s getting better.”
Savoy received assistance through one of the first two rounds of funding Clarksville received last year.
“I used it to pay staff, I used a little bit of it as a nest egg because after the second round I was like ‘OK this is very uncertain, let me make sure we have a good nest egg to support ourselves,’” he said. “The last thing I did was take some and invest it in marketing so we can get more clients to make up for the loss.
“That was rough but our clients are very diligent and our staff was very great...,” he said.
For New Albany, this will be the first round of this specific grant received, although as an entitlement community it was able to receive more than $500,000 in direct funding from the CARES Act last year, which was used across sectors to help residents.
New Albany Redevelopment Director Josh Staten said the need for safety — maintaining social distancing and limiting the number of people in businesses — has taken a toll on the small owners there.
“But the people of New Albany — especially the small business owners — are very resilient,” he said. “They adapted, they learned ways to get to their customers, whether it’s curbside, whether it’s delivery, a lot of different options....
He said he wants to see the funding help those business owners rebuild and restart.
New Albany has seen such a momentum over the past 10 years,” he said. “And the pandemic did slow things down but...we hope that everything comes back 10 times better.”
Langford said he plans to open the registration for the Clarksville funds at an upcoming meeting with small business owners — the first of what he hopes are many in a new program to help support local entrepreneurs.
He will hold what he calls a listening session at 3 p.m. May 4 at Bolt + Tie, the new mixed use development at 1400 Main Street in South Clarksville. The goal is to “figure out what Clarksville can do to better interact with our businesses and make it a more friendly small business climate,” he said. “And essentially to get some more feedback from our business community.”
That meeting comes after the newly-implemented Clarksville small business registry.
He said that while Clarksville has long been the commercial hub of Southern Indiana, “I think we just need to be more intentional with our small business community and see if there’s ways we can help them grow, especially as we’re building out this new downtown.
“Not everything down there could and should be big franchises. We need small mom and pop stores down there. We need to make sure we’re involving our small business community in the development of south Clarksville.”
Savoy, whose fitness center is next to the new development, plans to be there.
“As a business owner, I’m kind of stuck in my own little box, to actually have a situation which I can link up with other business owners that have similar problems and similar interests I think is amazing,” Savoy said.
“I am excited — I’d love to pick their brains on different strategies that they’re doing and how they survived and what they’re doing going forward.”