Small-business owner sings praises of Gahanna CARES Assistance Program
In a year when people have been encouraged to stay apart because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, imagine trying to maintain a business that depends on social gatherings.
That’s been the challenge for Kylee Miller, owner of [Be] Social Dress Boutique, 121 Mill St., Suite 120, in Gahanna’s Creekside District.
She’s one of 64 commercial recipients who has received approval for funding thus far from Gahanna’s CARES Act assistance program.
CARES refers to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin said the results of Gahanna’s effort, called the CARES Assistance Program, has been bittersweet.
“It is heartbreaking to see the widespread impact that this pandemic has had and continues to have on our community,” she said. “Yet we are extremely grateful to have the ability to provide much-needed financial assistance to our residents and small businesses at this critical time.”
When people ask about her business, Miller said, she contemplates whether to say it’s healthy or to tell the real story.
Because of the coronavirus, she said, events her patrons would have attended have been canceled.
“We lost 90% of our business this year,” Miller said.
She said events like high school proms and homecomings are the “bread and butter” of [Be] Social.
Miller said her business has grown every year since opening in January 2015, and she was considering an expansion to include children's and baby apparel this year.
But the coronavirus changed that.
“People were reluctant to do senior pictures,” she said. “I have a boutique section with things you can’t find everywhere. We’ll get people who need that special outfit. We dress for all sorts of events – masquerades, holiday parties. We get a lot of winter formals, junior high May dances.”
Miller said she was distraught until Jadwin listened to her concerns and told her help could be on the way through the CARES Act.
“To have her get on the phone and talk to me an hour and care, it’s what I needed,” Miller said. “I didn’t see any hope until that money passed through.
“I told myself if they’re going to fight for my business, that’s what I’m going to do. The support and the love you feel from the mayor and city, it’s like they wrapped themselves around me and added that little protection.”
Carrin Wester, city communications manager, said the city's program was allocated $830,000 for distribution.
"Although we have some funds left to distribute, we will have definitely exhausted the full $830,00 after all is said and done," she said.
Although other communities have used a portion of their CARES Act funds to provide support to their small businesses, Jadwin said, Gahanna is a rare exception in extending financial assistance to its residents.
As of Nov. 16, 64 commercial applications had been approved, awarding $526,627, and 91 residential applications had been approved, awarding $292,470, according to Wester. Eight were pending, and 17 were denied commercial applications, with 23 pending and 34 denied residential applications, as of Nov. 16.
Wester said the top reason for rejection of a residential application was that the resident didn't actually live inside city limits. Many were within the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District but didn’t live within city limits, she said.
The top reason for businesses being rejected was that they had requested funds to cover payroll. Payroll expenses were not eligible under the city's plan, she said.
John Hicks, a member of the city program's application-review committee, said the committee has heard devastating stories from the Gahanna community about how the coronavirus has affected their lives.
“Through the Gahanna CARES program, we were able to provide direct economic support that in some cases prevented foreclosure, evictions and the permanent closing of a business,” he said.
Without the support from Gahanna, Miller said, her business would be closed.
“I cried and prayed for weeks on end,” she said. “I don’t want just free money from wherever. I want to be open and make sales and be there for people and dress them.”
Miller said she hopes funding she received through the CARES Act will bridge the gap and help keep her open and operating.
Although the program appears to have helped the community as designed, Mike Schnetzer, chairman of City Council’s finance committee, said it’s sobering to see the need quantified and underscores that many in the community face significant challenges as a result of the pandemic.
“We will continue to work together to support one another – our local businesses and residents in need,” Jadwin said. “Because that’s what Gahanna does best.”