PSBRF distributes funds to 70 local Princeton businesses

Princeton businesses on Nassau Street during a calm summer evening. ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
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Princeton businesses on Nassau Street during a calm summer evening. ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

Seventy local Princeton businesses are receiving emergency financial relief from the Princeton Small Businesses Resiliency Relief Fund (PSBRF), as those businesses continue to navigate a difficult landscape during the coronavirus pandemic.

The grant program’s first cycle has been releasing $5,000 in grant funds to each of the 70 businesses totaling in the amount of $350,000.

“All of the 70 businesses have been contacted to say congratulations and others we contacted to let them know they were not approved for now. By the end of this week of Sept. 12, we should have all 70 businesses receiving the funds from the money dispersed,” said John Goedecke, president of the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and member of the PSBRF Grant Review Committee. “I suspect that the funds will be fully distributed by mid-September.”

The funds from the program go toward addressing expenses due to reopening and new guidelines for the businesses approved by the PSBRF Grant Review Committee.

“There were probably 85 to 90 applications for funds,” he said. “As a grant committee we had a really short porch. The township, Princeton University, chamber foundation and grant committee wanted to get this money out to the business community, so we moved through the details and the criteria as best we could to come up with the final list of 70.”

Goedecke said there were duplicate applications.

“We had advised businesses that they could only apply once during this first cycle and if business owners had multiple businesses in Princeton they could only apply for one of the businesses owned,” he said.

PSBRF was able to launch initially because of a $250,000 commitment from Princeton University, which had also provided a dollar-for-dollar match up to $100,000 for additional donations.

“Remarkably, it speaks to the community, because there were some small donations and some larger ones. We raised that additional $100,000 matching,” Goedecke said. “Three hundred fifty thousand dollars was for the 70 business applications that were approved. The additional amount of $100,000, we would want to work with the township and go from there. Do we do a second round cycle or change the criteria? We do not want to sit on the additional money. We want to get those funds into the business community.”

The grant review committee members will talk with the Resiliency Fund Advisory Committee, partners and donors to figure out the next steps regarding the $100,000 left from the fund’s total amount of $450,000.

“I think within the next month we want to say we have made some progress as a country with all of the restrictions, and how do we help people with the months that remain? Do we do so in measured way two months from now or right away?” Goedecke said. “With the winter months approaching, we want to figure what is fair for the business community in Princeton, which is what the fund targeted towards.”

Since the grant program’s announcement on June 26, applications for grants up to $5,000 were being accepted from July 1-31. After July 31, a committee of Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation members and community leaders facilitated the grant application process.

“We were given a grant application cycle of all of July, so we were monitoring applications as they came in. The process was not easy. The first week of August, when we had all of the applications come through, Tropical Storm Isaias hit,” he said. “That was the one part that did not go as planned. Everything else was not necessarily easy because a lot of us are not established grant givers. Under the leadership of Chip Jerry, the grant review committee pulled together.”

Approved expenses the funds can be used for include supplies for business reopening operating guidelines; cashless payment systems; telecom and internet connectivity; retrofitting or remodeling of retail space to facilitate social distancing inside and outside of the business; and providing emergency employee assistance with childcare expenses during the pandemic.

“We are extremely grateful to the university for their very generous donation and matching challenge, as well as to all the many donors that gave generously to help us exceed our goals and give grants to all of these businesses,” Princeton Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros said. “The Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber Foundation put together an excellent Grant Review Committee who worked diligently to review all applications that were received.”

Approved applications of Princeton small businesses that received the $5,000 grants can also use a maximum of 50% of the grant for marketing purposes.

“I think with the application of these funds, businesses might say this is a drop in the bucket to my overhead or rent, but it is still a signal that people value the businesses that we have and want to support them through the difficulties we all face,” Goedecke said. “We met the up to $5,000 grant number to disperse to approved businesses and did not have to determine a different amount for a business by saying they deserve only a certain amount instead of the $5,000.”