The University of Chicago announced on April 21, 2020, more than $680,000 in bridge grants to immediately support 182 South Side small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This financial assistance is one element of the institution’s South Side COVID-19 Com- munity Support Initiative launched on March 30. Independently owned or franchised businesses with no more than three locations in the University’s nine neighborhood focus area (Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn) were eligible to receive up to $7,500 in grants from the University. Awarded funds included $125,000 from a $250,000 grant for the University’s Community Support Initiative provided by the Chicago Bears and Bears Care, the team’s charitable arm.
With customers and clients staying home across the country and around the world, small businesses are experiencing unprecedented challenges, from plunging revenues and piling bills to forced furloughs and lay-offs. Keeping their businesses and employees afloat through this crisis is a struggle most small business owners can’t afford to face without help. Payments will be issued in the coming days in order to help bridge the resource gap in this critical period as public and private sector COVID-19 aid becomes available. The University established the bridge fund to be used for small businesses’ general operating expenses and direct support for impacted employees, many of whom are South Side residents.
“Small businesses are crucial to the stability and vitality of our shared community,” Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs, said. “This pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on many local small businesses and we hope this support will help the owners and their employees get through this difficult time.
“We want to help ensure that the South Side’s commercial corridors rebound after this public health and economic crisis ends.”
Grantees were selected based on a combination of criteria including how significantly each eligible business was impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and the potential for funds to provide relief to employees, among other factors. In an effort to support not only individual business owners and their employees but also active commercial corridors throughout the South Side, grants were concentrated on businesses with a physical location that is open to customers or clients. Consideration was also given to businesses that were able to demonstrate a history of being a community asset.
Grantees included restaurants, shops, day cares, fitness centers, cultural institutions, health facilities, personal care services, construction firms, and others.
Because of the University’s longstanding community relationships through its UChicago Local initiative, a number of place-based South Side Business Support Organizations were provided with financial support and enlisted to provide additional business outreach and information on businesses and their impact on their communities.
These eight community organizations included the 51st Street Business Association, the Greater Chat- ham Initiative, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the Quad Communities Development Corporation, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, the Southeast Chicago Commission, the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce, and the Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce.
At Kenyatta’s Day Care in South Shore, executive director Brenda Owens worried both for the parents and children who have been relying on her business’ services since it opened 42 years ago and her 11 long-time employees, some of whom she wasn’t able to pay their full paychecks when the pandemic took hold.
“We were getting calls from our staff, they were getting worried about how they were going to be able to pay their bills and it just happened so quickly we really didn’t have a chance to think about things that maybe we would have thought of if we’d had more time,” Owens said.
The funds Kenyatta’s Day Care will be receiving from the Illinois Department of Human Services will not be enough to cover everybody and the bills, Owens said. “The grant from the University will bridge what we weren’t able to pay,” she said. “It’s important because most of us, especially on the South Side of Chicago, we can’t just walk into a bank and get a loan, it’s almost impossible, that’s been my experience anyway, so the University stepping up and offering the funds, they’ll help us.”