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UC awards Rent Relief and grants to 18 small businesses

Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Virtue Restaurant, Kilwins Confectionary Shop among the first wave of grantees with emergency funding for additional tenants to be awarded later this week

Jackie Jackson, owner of Kilwins Confectionary Shop in Hyde Park, was on her way to an especially successful year when the COVID-19 pandemic’s reverberating effects caused her business to plummet by almost 90 percent.

“We really tried to hang on. We were doing curbside and deliveries and it just didn’t work out, so we decided to try to stay safe and well,” Jackson said. In recent weeks, Jackson and her daughter, who lives across the street from the shop, have fulfilled email or phone orders as they’ve come, but otherwise have kept their business, which employs approximately 14 workers throughout the year, shuttered.

But thanks to just-issued aid from the University of Chicago, Jackson says she plans to start catching up on insurance bills, utility payments, and keeping the shop’s lights and many freezers operating.

“I feel so grateful for the grant that the University gave to the tenants because that is going to be the reason why I stay,” she said. “I have another store downtown on Michigan Avenue, and that store’s not going to make it. I have not been able to get any type of relief, I’ve been denied everything except for the University’s grant.”

Jackson’s assistance was part of the first wave of operating grants and rent relief the University of Chicago issued earlier this week to help its small business tenants like Jackson weather the COVID-19 crisis. The financial support for University tenants is one element of the institution’s South Side community support initiative launched on March 30, which included an investment of $2 million in direct funding and philanthropy for grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations and a food security for South Side residents.

Because of the University’s ongoing relationship with these businesses, applications were approved and payments were issued in a matter of days in order to help bridge the resource gap in this critical period as public and private sector COVID-19 assistance becomes available.

Tenant businesses were eligible to receive rent relief and between $2,500 and $7,500 in operating grants from the University’s Commercial Real Estate Operations group (CREO), depending on its number of employees.

Businesses will use the funds to pay employees, many of whom are South Side residents, offset business losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and otherwise sustain themselves until normal operations are revived or additional support is secured.

In the initial wave, awarded funds totaled $112,000 in April rent relief and $110,000 in operating grants. Soon thereafter, the University anticipates awarding an additional $50,000 in operating grants and $43,000 in April rent relief to nine tenants. Additional rent relief will be available in the next wave of support to local businesses.

Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs, said: “The University has worked hard to support a vibrant Hyde Park business district by providing commercial space to a diverse group of shopping, dining, and entertainment tenants. Those small businesses are critical to the health and stability of our shared community. We recognize the extraordinary financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and hope these funds can help businesses stay afloat and eventually reopen their doors.”

In order to qualify for rent relief and tenant grants, businesses needed to have a lease with the University or a University-controlled affiliate, be independently owned or franchised with no more than three locations, and feel a significant negative impact in their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the University will be awarding a second round of grants to more than 100 non-University-affiliated small businesses on the South Side. Given the volume of applications the anticipated date for notifications for those grant awards is April 20.

These small business efforts represent just one part of the University’s larger community support initiative, which also includes bridge funding and other support for local nonprofits; assistance for UChicago Medical Center health care workers, patients, and their families; and, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 225,000 meals that are being distributed to those facing food insecurity on the South Side.

In the coming weeks, Jackson says she hopes to pay the warmth and kindness she’s seen in the community during this difficult time forward by making caramel apples or fudge for local police, fire departments, and health care workers with supplies that would otherwise go to waste.

At Seminary Co-op Bookstore and 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, all 45 employees have had to adjust their business from one where customers browsing the shops’ aisles was central to their work to a business that’s currently operating completely online.

“Being unable to fulfill our core mission is tough but it’s been really heartening to see the community try and support us from a distance,” Jeff Deutsch, director of grant recipient Seminary Co-op Bookstore, said. “For the University to step up and acknowledge that with the grants in addition to the services and the work that they’re doing to ensure that we’re all here on the other side is admirable. We’re all connected, we’re all in this together — it’s never been as obvious as it is right now.”

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