Small businesses in the Town of Bedford, many of which are struggling to survive because of the coronavirus pandemic, could receive a boost from a new support program, the town and its Economic Development Authority announced Monday.

Locally owned businesses comprise the majority of establishments located within Bedford town limits, said Jonathan Buttram, EDA Chairman. The goal of the town’s small business support program is to keep their small businesses afloat and allow them a chance to re-open on the other side of the pandemic shutdown with as straightforward an application process as possible, council members said in a meeting last Thursday.

The grant program totals $150,000. Grants are available up to $5,000 for qualifying small businesses in the Town of Bedford. Grants are awarded on a first-come, first served basis, the EDA said.

Funding for this program comes from four pools of money: existing EDA funds, meal tax revenue allocated to the EDA, Bedford town’s unrestricted fund balance, and electricity and utilities revenue. Each funding source comprises 25% of the total program value, at about $37,500 from each source. No extra money is coming from town residents to foot the bill.

After discussion, town council members established parameters for qualifying businesses, ratified by the EDA in a meeting Friday.

The program is limited to locally-owned retail businesses and restaurants possessing an active business license with the Town of Bedford. Professional services and independent contractors are not eligible at this time. These business limitations are primarily a control measure, as council members said the town should gauge interest in the grant program and ensure the program would not be overwhelmed.

A qualifying retail business or restaurant must operate a brick-and-mortar location within town limits. It must be a “mom and pop” sort of business, Mayor Steve Rush said, not part of a franchise. Retailers must meet the definition of “retailer” in the Town Code, Section 54-328. The business must have a valid business license from the Town of Bedford, and must prove and certify a minimum 25% revenue loss.

Businesses may only use the money to pay rent or mortgage for March through July; pay utility costs; pay for marketing initiatives, especially to implement online sales presence; fund inventory needed to re-start a business; and as compensation for re-hiring or hiring new employees. Funds may not be used for payroll or expenses outside the established restrictions.

Deadline for applications is May 15 at 5 p.m. The EDA will handle applications and allocation of grant money.

Councilman C.G. Stanley said if greater interest is shown in the town’s small business aid program and if funds allow, a “second phase” could be considered, with potential to expand and include in-town professional services and independent contractors. Other council members and EDA members agreed this option could be considered after seeing the initial response from locally owned retail businesses and restaurants.

“We worked hard to get our businesses downtown, and I just don’t want to see anybody shut down,” said Councilman Bruce Johannessen.

Shannon Kelly covers Bedford County. Reach her at (434) 385-5489.

Shannon Kelly covers Bedford County. Reach her at (434) 385-5489.

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