WESTERLY — The Ocean Community Chamber Foundation One Fund distributed nearly $19,000 in grants Tuesday to 23 small businesses struggling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The One Fund, which was under development prior to the pandemic, went live in late March. The idea behind the fund was to have something in place to help with the next region-wide emergency. The chamber and its foundation had become somewhat accustomed to jumping into action to help and serve during critical times following the floods of 2010 and the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Some businesses were forced to close during Gov. Gina Raimondo's stay-at-home order. Others were relegated to online, curbside, delivery or takeout orders only. As the state reopens, Lisa Konicki, chamber president, said many local businesses are "literally getting by month-to-month, just covering their bills," while others are slowly "starting to gain some traction and making a profit but not what it was before."
Konicki said she was aware of just one business, a restaurant, in Westerly that closed as a result of the pandemic. In Stonington and Mystic, she said a total of four establishments went out of business.
"I wouldn't be surprised if more drop off because you can only break even for so long," Konicki said.
On Tuesday, chamber representatives visited local businesses to deliver grant checks and, in some cases, business owners visited the chamber offices. The money was raised through individual donations and contributions from Washington Trust Co., Chelsea Groton Bank, The Andrea, the Royce Family Fund and Lathrop Insurance. Funds were also raised through the sales of t-shirts and pledges during a concert by Big Lux.
Konicki, on Tuesday, praised the businesses and individuals who donated.
"It speaks volumes about how much people care," she said.
Grants from $409 to $659 were distributed. Sixteen recipients were from Westerly and seven from Stonington. Fourteen of the recipients were chamber members. Some of the recipients opted to receive a chamber membership and a smaller financial award.
"They've seen the level of dedication and passion we have for being on the front lines," Konicki said.
Retail, food industry, salon/spas, nonprofit organizations, media/marketing firms, one entertainer and one indoor amusement all were approved for grants.
Two businesses were denied due to overdue taxes or supplying false information, according to a news release from the chamber.
One of the award winners will receive his grant after he completes a quarantine for potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
In addition to the grants, the chamber distributed $3,540 worth of chamber gift certificates, which can be redeemed at a host of businesses in the region, to employees of businesses that qualified for grants.
For the time being, Konicki said, the chamber has shifted to providing support and marketing services and trying to promote consumer confidence, but "we know our situation could change on a moment's notice" as the virus continues to plague the country.
The chamber also helped generate more than $100,000 in sales through shop local and art show Facebook Live events it conducted in local businesses and studios on weekends during the stay-at-home order.
This article was modified at 2:31 p.m. on July 9, 2020 to add Washington Trust Co. as a grant sponsor. The bank was inadvertently omitted from information initially provided to The Sun and did not appear in the original version.