Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion
                                Skylar Giordano cuts Ryan Huerta’s hair at RD’s Barber Shop in Kena on Thursday. RD’s is one of the 186 local businesses and nonprofits in Kenai that already received financial assistance through the City of Kenai’s Grant Program.

Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion Skylar Giordano cuts Ryan Huerta’s hair at RD’s Barber Shop in Kena on Thursday. RD’s is one of the 186 local businesses and nonprofits in Kenai that already received financial assistance through the City of Kenai’s Grant Program.

Kenai boosts local economy with grants

The city has distributed $1.9 million in grants to 186 businesses and nonprofits.

The City of Kenai is reopening the application window for its municipal CARES Act grants for local businesses and nonprofits, as over a million dollars in financial relief is still available through the program.

Project Lead Larry Persily told the Clarion Thursday that the city has already distributed $1.905 million in grants to 186 businesses and nonprofits, but a total of $3 million was set aside for the program.

The application window was open for two weeks. Persily said that in the week after the application was closed, some business owners reached out to the city saying that they had missed the deadline but could still use the funds.

“The way we see it, this money is better off in the hands of local businesses than in the city’s account,” Persily said. “So the (city) staff recommended that the city council vote to reopen the application period, which they did last week.”

Persily said that even with the application window reopening, he expects a significant portion of the funds to remain unclaimed. To that end, Persily and others within the administration also recommended that any funds left unclaimed after the second round of applications should be set aside for another small business grant program in the coming months.

“I expect that there will be close to a million dollars that isn’t used, and I also expect that the need for these funds will arise again at some point,” Persily said.

For the businesses and nonprofits that applied in the first window, Persily said that checks from the city were sent out on June 26. Cheri Smith, executive director of the LeeShore Center in Kenai, told the Clarion Thursday that her organization received $50,000 from the city. Her thank-you card to city officials was in the mail by June 30, she said. The LeeShore Center is a nonprofit that provides services to victims of domestic violence. Smith said the money from the city was used to pay wages for a position at their transitional housing facility, food costs, hotel stays and gas cards for clients and new beds and frames for the emergency shelter.

The LeeShore Center has been unable to do any fundraising or take donations since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alaska in March, so Smith said the city’s grant was a much-needed buffer for their general funds.

Dave Coleson, owner of RD’s Barber Shop in Kenai, said that his shop received $5,000 from the city, which he simply distributed among the other barbers that work at the shop.

“They contributed to the end result of me, the owner, being eligible to get the deal,” Coleson said on Thursday. “My personal income would have put me under the $50,000 requirement, but because I went through the 6% sales tax, the barber shop itself carried its weight. So I distributed that money equally amongst my people.”

The barber shop was closed for the first two months of the pandemic, and even after the state allowed barber shops to resume operation, RD’s remained closed as they stocked up on the necessary protective equipment and made sure they could operate safely under the new protocols. Coleson said that on a personal level, he was prepared to take a financial hit if necessary, but the impacts of the pandemic were definitely felt at the shop.

All of the grant recipients who spoke to the Clarion said that the application process for the grant was a breeze. Smith, who has written many grant applications over the years as the director of a nonprofit, said that this grant was by far the simplest application she’s done.

“I couldn’t believe how simple it was,” Coleson said. “Just bang bang, a few simple questions and you were done. They didn’t ask for any documentation or nothing.”

Scott Shelden, manager of Dan’s TV and Appliance, said that he hadn’t even heard about the grant when someone from the city reached out to let him know it was available.

“It was fantastic because I hadn’t really been familiar with it and somebody from the city took the time to reach out to us and see if we were interested,” Shelden said. “So we really appreciated that support.”

The local appliance store received $10,000, which Shelden said was used to recoup some of the additional costs they had incurred over the course of the pandemic, including cleaning products by the gallon and hundreds of masks and gloves for their employees.

Shelden said the store remained open through the past few months and no employees were let go, but at the beginning of the state’s response to the pandemic, business slowed down significantly as people sheltered in place.

Since the end of April, however, Shelden said the store has actually seen an increase in sales and customers. Shelden attributed the bump in business to two factors: a renewed sense of enthusiasm for buying local, and the fact that people have been stuck at home for so long they’ve had enough time to notice that their appliances need an upgrade.

Devon Gonzalez, owner of Kenai Kombucha, said that she received $2,500 through the program, which went directly towards rent and utility bills for her taproom.

Chris Fallon, part-owner of Jersey Subs, said that their Kenai location received $7,500, which helped pay for wages and utilities.

The application window for Kenai’s CARES Act Grant Program opens Friday and will close at 5 p.m. on July 17.

Visit www.kenai.city to access the grant application, and call Persily at 907-283-8226 or email lpersily@kenai.city for more information.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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