Pinch Boil House was among the recipients of small business grants issued to stave off the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pinch Boil House was among the recipients of small business grants issued to stave off the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Within the first eight hours that small businesses could apply for grants through the City’s COVID-19 recovery program, 35 local business owners submitted applications totaling $1.22 million.

By Tuesday afternoon, 315 more applications had rolled in as San Antonio’s small business owners sought relief from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Funding for the $24.7 million grant program came from federal coronavirus relief legislation and was approved by City Council on June 4 as part of a $191 million local recovery plan that will fund workforce training to stabilize workers and the economy during and after the coronavirus pandemic, housing assistance, grants for small businesses, and the expansion of internet access to assist distance learning.

Most of Monday’s small business grant applicants came from the retail and food and beverage industries, according to LiftFund, the nonprofit partnering with the city to administer the grants.

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Sean Wen, who opened the restaurant Pinch Boil House in September 2017 with Andrew Ho, was one of the first to apply. With fewer workers in the downtown area since the outbreak began, Wen said restaurant sales have dropped off by more than half. 

“In January and February, we were essentially busier than we’ve ever been,” Wen said. That changed suddenly in March, and the restaurant was closed all of April and May as the city went into lockdown.

Wen and Ho plan to use the grant funds to make the monthly rent payments on the North Main Avenue restaurant and do some major equipment repairs they had put off.  They recently applied for other grants and a Paycheck Protection Program loan to support their payroll.

The purpose of San Antonio’s grant program is to ensure that small businesses like Pinch Boil House don’t become another pandemic-related statistic. The online business advertising platform Yelp has been tracking business closures during the pandemic and reported that nearly 140,000 total businesses nationwide have closed between March 1 and June 15. Of those businesses that closed, nearly half shut permanently, and among restaurant closures, 53 percent were permanent.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and will be critical to our recovery from the economic effects of COVID-19,” stated District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who chairs the council’s Economic and Workforce Development Committee. “This program will provide support and help alleviate any cost burdens to our small businesses and nonprofits as they reopen their doors safely and continue to navigate during this time.”

San Antonio-based businesses and nonprofits with 20 or fewer employees and a budget of less than $2 million are eligible to apply. Professional services businesses such as architects, physicians, and attorneys, cannot apply; national franchises, payday loan operators, and liquor stores also are excluded.

Grants ranging between $10,000 and $75,000 will be made based upon the number of employees. Business owners must be able to demonstrate a loss of at least 15 percent of revenue starting March 1 due to the pandemic.  

Several local organizations are assisting business owners in completing applications, including Centro San Antonio, San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside, the Westside Development Corporation, and Southside First.

Grants will be awarded in August. Eligible businesses or nonprofits can apply for the grants by going to covid19.sanantonio.gov/recoverygrants or calling 800-494-4973.

The application opened Monday and will close July 27.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.