As Poulsbo sorts out what to do with the remainder of its Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association has asked the city to help keep businesses going as they recover from COVID-19 impacts.
Mayor Becky Erickson provided an update on CARES funds provided by government to help mitigate impacts of the pandemic. Some of that money could be used by the association, which is asking for nearly $200,000 in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) alone.
In May, Poulsbo was granted $335,400 in CARES funds to be spent by Oct. 31. It was awarded another $167,700 in August, making the total $503,100, and the deadline was delayed until Nov. 30. The city has spent $318,600, leaving roughly $184,500.
The funds have been placed in three categories: helping the most vulnerable populations, such as homeless families, seniors and frontline workers; helping businesses stay afloat and recover by providing funds for PPE; and maintaining city safety and necessary infrastructure and operations.
The city is looking to respond to needs not only of the downtown association but from others, such as Martha & Mary and Kitsap Homes of Compassion.
“There is an ask from Martha & Mary for $50,000 in childcare scholarships, especially supporting first responders and essential workers,” Erickson said. “We also have an ask for $6,000 from Kitsap Homes of Compassion; they have provided tablets to all of their homes. They have a lot of people with health problems and need to get ahold of their doctors but are afraid to leave the house, so they do telemedicine on these tablets.”
The city had previously obligated $80,000 in CARES funds to help small businesses through the rest of the year but voted to change that to $180,000. That would leave about $84,000 to be split between Martha & Mary, tablets or more PPE, Erickson said.
Meanwhile, the downtown association completed two surveys of the needs of businesses to recover from the pandemic and found that there has been lower customer demand partially due to safety concerns, capacity restrictions and a lack of parking. Additionally, PPE costs have quadrupled over the summer, making it harder for them to operate and remain safe.
“As you know Poulsbo businesses always look forward to a big jump in business in March to recover from the slower winter months and that did not happen this year,” said Marianna Smyth, president of the downtown association and co-owner of Western Red Brewing.
Smyth noted that the two-month shutdown ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee sent many businesses into a tailspin of having to figure out how to operate online. The end result is they only saw up to 15 percent of the business they had been getting prior to the pandemic. Many had to lay off employees.
Smyth said in late April, the U.S. government threw them a lifeline with the Paycheck Protection Program, but that ended Sept. 24. It covered about 2 1/2 months of payroll.
“In June, the governor allowed us to open back up at 50 percent capacity with many additional restrictions. Just because we were at 50 percent capacity, does not mean that we were at 50 percent of regular operation or even operating at a sustainable level,” she said.
The restrictions have impacted businesses differently based on their physical footprint and model. Many still can’t be profitable at the allowed capacity so they remain closed.
While summer sales helped, they were not enough for many businesses to remain confident enough to last through winter.
“Just because our business doors are open, it does not mean that we are thriving,” Smyth said.
Along with more PPEs, the downtown association has asked the city for a marketing campaign to drive hesitant customers into businesses. Also, they want the city to address the bottlenecks and parking issues downtown, including fixing parking signage and placing sanitation stations around town. But those needs cost more than the city has in CARES funds.
“We would like you to help the businesses mitigate the high costs of COVID safety supplies through funding,” Smyth said, adding they think if they buy in bulk they can lower costs. She added that downtown businesses are spending about $22,000 per month in COVID safety supplies.
The City Council stated it would like to help the downtown association, but would only be able to grant $30,000 toward PPEs.
However, Erickson is talking to Kitsap County, which has $4 million in CARES funds it also needs to spend by Nov. 30. The hope is to get another couple hundred thousand dollars there to meet the needs of all the requests.