Montco announces new grant program ‘specifically for the restaurant industry’

The West Avenue Grille in Jenkintown, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The West Avenue Grille in Jenkintown, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Montgomery County’s Board of Commissioners has created a $5 million program that will help support restaurants and other food service businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county Commerce Department and the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County will be responsible for handling the assistance coming through the MontcoStrong 2021 Restaurant Grant Program. Starting on Dec. 30, interested food businesses will have the opportunity to apply for $10,000 grants to cover expenses in 2021.

“Without additional support right now from the federal government and the state, we wanted to step up as a county through the leadership of our commissioners to do what we could here,” county commerce director David Zellers said Thursday.

Throughout 2020, the county deployed a three-round grant initiative to assist small businesses and nonprofits through MontcoStrong. The program used CARES funding to provide economic relief to local shops. The final wave of aid ended in July.

Though the county recently launched a Make It Main Street campaign with the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board that spotlights small businesses, there had not been another round of actual financial aid — until now. The target will be much narrower this time around, because of recent business restrictions that have put many suburban restaurants on thin ice.

“We know these next few months … are already tough months typically in the restaurant sector after the holidays, and we know this year it’s going to be even tougher,” Zellers said.

The funding for the latest campaign will come from the county’s economic development funds.

“Previously, we’ve awarded nearly $20 million to Montco businesses and nonprofits and that came from CARES funding, but when this new round of mitigation efforts came around, we wanted to do something specifically for the restaurant industry because we know that they have borne the brunt of this,” said Commissioners Vice Chair Ken Lawrence Jr..

County officials say they see restaurants as among the economic cornerstones of the community.

“Restaurants are a major driver of entrepreneurship. They’re a place where a lot of folks get their first job,” Zellers said.

The new MontcoStrong grant program is open to any for-profit restaurant or other food service business with a brick-and mortar-location in the county that has had its doors open since Jan. 1, 2020. The business will have to show that it has been negatively affected by the pandemic, using a still-to-be determined set of guidelines.

“We’re just dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s right now on the guidelines, and we’re hoping to have everything finalized later,” Zellers said. The guidelines and an FAQ sheet will soon be available online.

The county will pay particular attention to minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses, according to Zellers.

With the prospect of additional federal funding in limbo and CARES Act programs set to expire by Dec. 26, Lawrence said the CARES assistance was critical this year.

“We’re prepared to continue on, but we would certainly hope that the federal government can come back with another round of CARES funding for state and local governments,” Lawrence said.

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