MIDDLETOWN – The Township Committee ceremoniously presented the representatives of eight small businesses with a check for $15,000 on Feb. 9 through the Middletown Economic Relief Program (MERP): All Natural Dry Cleaners, Code Ninjas, Greens & Grains, Middletown Pancake House, Monmouth Museum, No Limits Cafe, Rock’n Music Academy and Zeek’s Tees.
MERP funding was officially approved at the Feb. 16 Township Committee meeting where it was announced that 29 small businesses and nonprofit organizations across town will be awarded $422,500 through this initiative, according to a press release from the township.
Of the 29 small businesses that applied, 26 were awarded $15,000, and the other three were awarded $10,000, $10,500, and $12,500 since that is the amount the business owner requested, according to the press release.
The relief program was launched in October to help provide financial assistance to eligible small businesses and nonprofit organization in Middletown that have been affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The program’s funding was provided through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development via the Community Development Block Grant program.
Shortly after a MERP press conference was held on Oct. 15, Middletown-based businesses and nonprofit organizations that fit the criteria outlined by township administration and the Planning and Community Development Department were invited to apply for the grant.
In addition to the Township Committee, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners Director Tom Arnone, Middletown Economic Development Committee Chairman Abe Littenberg, township officials and some local small business owners attended the event.
“During this challenging environment, we are very excited to be able to provide some financial assistance to our dedicated and hard-working small business owners who continue to serve our community as well as employ locally,” said Mayor Tony Perry, who also serves on the board of the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Business owners will have this money in their hands before the end of the month and we hope it will not only enable them to stay afloat, but also thrive as COVID restrictions ease up,” the mayor said.
Deputy Mayor Rick Hibell is a business owner and understands firsthand the financial burden the pandemic has had on community.
“This is one way we are able to give back to our small business owners who have been putting their heart and soul into trying to adapt to the continuous blows COVID has dealt,” he said.
Small business owners who have been awarded funds through MERP have expressed how this financial assistance can help them meet the challenges presented by the pandemic, according to the press release.
“Mayor Perry and the Township Committee are so deeply committed to this community and understand the critical needs of nonprofits and small businesses affected by the ongoing limitations due to COVID,” said Erika Hellstrom, executive director of the Monmouth Museum (765 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft). “The funding enables the museum to continue moving forward during these truly uncertain times.”
“Diners who don’t yet feel comfortable with inside dining are not venturing out to restaurants, yet our bills and expenses remain unchanged from pre-COVID levels,” said Kitsa Mavrode, owner of the Middletown Pancake House (1610 Route 35).
“We intend to use the MERP funds to continue hiring local residents, extend table spacing, and erect an outdoor tent and tables when warm weather arrives,” Mavrode said.
“This financial relief will give us the opportunity to rebuild our student base and move forward in our 15th year of offering music instruction in Middletown,” said Howard L. Edwards Jr., owner, Rock’n Music Academy (500 Route 35, Union Square Shopping Center).
“Like many small business, we are still recovering from the effects of the 2020 shutdown and capacity restrictions due to COVID,” said Stadi Sinclair, owner of Code Ninjas (498 Route 35, Union Square Shopping Center).
“Having lost over 60% of our customers, the MERP grant will provide a financial safety net that will us allow us to pay staff and operational costs while we rebuild and regain students,” she said.
“Because of the pandemic, we are down quite a bit in sales,” said Frank Zechman, owner of Zeek’s Tees (515 Route 36, Belford). “This is normally a very slow time for us, plus being hit with all of this snow, so I thank Middletown Township for helping out our small businesses to help get through this very tough time.