STOW — More than 300 small businesses in Summit County will receive a total of more than $1.5 million in funding through a program created to provide emergency relief during the coronavirus pandemic.

Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce recently announced that 311 small businesses in the county will receive funding from the COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program.

In total, the chamber will distribute $1.546 million to small businesses. Initial funding for the program was provided by Summit County, the city of Akron, JumpStart and Key Bank. Additional funding was provided by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation; private donors; the cities of Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Green, Norton and Tallmadge; Bath Township; Copley Township; Coventry Township; and the village of Mogadore.

The grant program, which Summit County Council approved last month, provides grants of up to $5,000 to small for-profit businesses affected by COVID-19.

Stow Mayor John Pribonic said that $5,000 can cover a lease payment or insurance or something to help out a small business. 

"I can tell you from talking to different businesses, the money means a lot," he said. "They’re very grateful."

Most small businesses have a cash reserve of 15 to 30 days, and if we look at the calendar, they are nearing that point, Pribonic said. The grants were awarded to 14 businesses in Stow.

"Small businesses are a big backbone of our community," Pribonic said. "It’s more than a feel good gesture. These businesses needed this money."

Phoenix Express, an Asian restaurant at 3063 Graham Road in Stow, is waiting for the money which will be used for employee wages and utilities, said owner Bin Bin Zheng.

The restaurant closed at the end of March for a month to clean, Zheng said.

"We opened up April 24 for carryout," Zheng said. "We had no income but had to pay all our bills."

Once the government allows inside dining, they’ll take a couple weeks to get ready and open for sit down dining, he said.

Café O’Play, 911 Graham Road, Ste. 27, has been maintaining payroll for some of its employees even though it remains closed, said owner John Green. The $5,000 grant will help.

The indoor play café with a climbing structure, sports courts, games and party rooms had to lay off its staff of 20 people March 15.

They received funds from the Payroll Protection Plan, and last week nine employees came back on payroll, and they will add the rest next week, Green said. That money will run out mid-June and the $5,000 from the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and Summit County will help with payroll through July.

About a third of the staff have found other jobs, Green said. It will cost approximately $1,500 to train new employees. If Gov. Mike DeWine gives approval, they could open June 1 but will add high tech hand washing units and child care for catering working parents.

Salon and spa, Cottrell's of Stow at 4442 Darrow Road, has been closed since Gov. Mike DeWine’s order in March, and they are waiting for his approval to open.

Owner Dave Cottrell said the company would use the $5,000 for building and overhead expenses.

Seven employees, including Cottrell, have been out of work. They’ve applied for unemployment but haven’t received any money yet, he said.

"We’re waiting on the governor and our cosmetology board to give us the specifics for opening," Cottrell said. "We’ll probably have to wear masks, provide a hand washing station and keep the numbers down, but nothing is definitive."

Cottrell said when they do open up, they will have to allow extra time for customers who may have cut or colored their own hair and need it fixed.

Owner Judy Phillips of Sew Déjà Vu at 1608 Norton Road said she would use the grant for payroll, rent and utilities. She laid off five employees.

"I wanted to keep my staff safe and didn’t feel comfortable staying open and not knowing [the dangers]," Phillips said. "I’m hoping in a couple weeks to begin to bring them back a couple at a time."

Phillips said she anticipated the need and ordered large amounts of elastic which she has been giving away for the making of masks. Donations have helped to replace the supply.

Other Stow businesses that received grants include AllScapes Ohio LLC; Beef ‘O’ Brady’s; Gavin Scott Salon; Home2 Suites By Hilton Stow; LM Companies LLC; PROCUT/PROPLOW; Site Technology Inc.; Stow Dental Group; and The Stowaway PubStow. In Munroe Falls, Summit Orthodontic Services Inc. received a grant.

More details about program

Businesses in operation for at least a year prior to March 15, 2020, with three to 25 employees and more than 50% of their employees residing in Summit County were eligible.

At the application deadline on April 13, there were more than 1,000 applicants, resulting in more than 600 eligible applications that were reviewed by the Grant Underwriting Team.

Fifty-one percent of eligible applicants received grant awards.

"These grants put desperately needed funds into the hands of small businesses bearing the brunt of this economic crisis," Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro said.

Eligible expenses include businesses’ mortgage or rent payments, utility payments, health/property/casualty/liability insurance payments and employee salaries or wages.

"Focusing on and maximizing the impact of these dollars on local businesses that create important jobs in our community and are often at a disadvantage in competing for federal funds and access to capital was an important focus of this program," Shapiro said.

Grant recipients had to complete an individual grant agreement and provide other final documentation before receiving the funds.

Most businesses were expected to receive their grant before the end of April.