UNIVERSAL CITY — Municipal officials gave an economic shot in the arm to 54 ailing business owners struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Small Business Stimulus Program, approved by City Council in May, is designed to lessen the financial burden for local merchants hit hard by government-mandated closures or reduced operations, enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Mayor John Williams said the relief efforts were the “most rewarding” of his many years in office.
“Helping small businesses cope with some of their financial challenges is what community is all about,” he said. “We consider people and businesses as family and community.”
On May 19, City Council matched the Economic Development Corp.’s $250,000 grant for enterprises with 25 employees or less, bringing the stimulus package total to $500,000.
The EDC’s contributions were approved during the May 5 meeting.
Up to $10,000 was given to each grantee the week after the May 19 meeting to pay off four months of rent and utilities.
The metropolis’ total payout amounted to $438,000, City Manager Kim Turner said.
A remaining $62,000 will be awarded to businesses meeting the criteria on a first-come, first-serve basis. Interested owners can apply on the city’s website, www.universalcitytexas.com/.
Rent and utility receipts must be attached to the application.
Unlike federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, recipients don’t have to reimburse payments.
The town’s grants came as businesses slowly reopened statewide. Looming rent and utility expenses compelled the city to limit funding to those necessities, Turner said.
“Those are the basic needs that any business needs in order to open back up,” she said.
On June 3, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the third phase of a plan to revive Texas businesses, many of which were shuttered in March.
The city’s action nearly made Sandra Mason, co-owner with her husband, Mark, of the Four Kings eatery, cry when she was awarded $10,000 toward four months of rental bills. Since the outbreak, Four Kings has lost 30 percent in revenue due to the dine-in ban and reduced operating hours.
Adding to the couple’s stress was not being approved for federal assistance after missing a deadline for application submissions.
Receiving a local life preserver was a “godsend” for the Masons, whose restaurant – which employs 10 workers – has been an area staple for nearly a decade.
“Universal City is great for small business,” said Sandra Mason. “They support and take care of us. I can’t imagine being anywhere else and being able to be taken care of by our community. At least we can go to sleep and not worry about what is going to happen tomorrow.”
Nancy Brewington, owner of Hands ‘N Harmony Wellness Center, is equally grateful for the city’s generosity. She received $8,750 to pay off four months of rent for her shop.
Unlike Four Kings, her facility was deemed a nonessential business and forced to completely shut down in March.
Even as COVID-19 positive cases increased statewide, restaurants, coffeehouses and grocers were allowed to remain open, though in varying capacities.
Brewington experienced a $50,000 revenue loss during her spa’s temporary shuttering, she said. It reopened in May under the state’s Phase 2 strategy.
Universal City officials provided aid at the right time, prompting the businesswoman to express a desire to remain in town.
“(Universal City’s officials) are about helping one another,” said Brewington, a military veteran who relocated her store from Schertz in 2015. “They want to see small businesses grow and flourish in the community. I want to help the community, and the community wants to help me.”
While on hiatus, the Hands ‘N Harmony owner designed new ways to help her clients. Brewington said she created a virtual program that will provide online wellness training and education to patients.