CUYAHOGA FALLS — Thus far, 28 businesses in the city have received money from the COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program, money which is meant to help offset the economic catastrophe that many have suffered due to the ongoing pandemic.

Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce have distributed money to 311 small businesses in the county through the program — more than $1.5 million in funding provided by the 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 in March, provides grants of up to $5,000 to small for-profit businesses affected by COVID-19.

"These are tough times for everybody," said Anup Gupta, president of AG PrintPromo Solutions, a printing and marketing firm at 960 Graham Road which received a grant.

Gupta said his business was closed for more than a month, but noted he and his employees have returned to work during the last couple of weeks. He said it’s been challenging to get on track because some of his company’s clients have temporarily closed their businesses and others have canceled their events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our business was very adversely affected," stated Gupta, who added that any type of grant they can acquire will "help us stay afloat."

Gupta, whose wife Anju is the CEO of AG PrintPromo Solutions, said he expects that the grant money will be used for utility and payroll expenses.

Before the pandemic, Gupta said the company had six full-time employees. Today, five employees are back working in the office, while the sixth decided to not return. Gupta noted the employee’s resignation was not related to COVID-19.

"We are just working very hard to keep bringing business in," said Gupta.

As part of that effort, Gupta said his company is selling bottles of hand sanitizer and KN95 face masks. He pointed out that his firm has, in the past, created hand sanitizer bottles with a company’s logo on it. With demand high for hand sanitizer, Gupta said his company is now offering the products to anyone who would like to purchase them.

He added the KN95 masks are a new offering, are FDA-approved and are "comparable" to the N95 masks worn by health care workers and first responders.

The minimum order amount for either hand sanitizers or KN95 masks is 100, said Gupta. Anyone wishing to place an order can call 330-315-9600. He noted orders placed within Ohio should be filled in seven to nine days.

Another grant recipient, Rick Krochka, president of Triad Communications Inc.,1701 Front St., said cash flow was his "biggest concern" once COVID-19 began to impact economic activity. He said his firm acquired a PPP loan from the Small Business Administration, which is good for 60 days once the money is in hand. Krochka added he was "thankful" to receive the COVID-19 relief grant because it can be used for 90 days once he receives the check. The money that went to Triad is funded by a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the city of Cuyahoga Falls.

He said he is planning to use the grant for rent and utility costs. Triad provides marketing and design solutions for  businesses, non-profits and foundations.

"In marketing and advertising, there were some of our clients who felt an immediate impact," said Krochka. "There were retained clients and they immediately called and said … we’re going to have to put this on hiatus until we get further on down the line."

Despite being "impacted immediately" by COVID-19, Krochka said, "we were able to pivot quickly because all the employees could work from home."

With COVID-19 forcing a work-from-home situation, Krochka said his employees are regularly communicating with each other in the Zoom platform.

Noting that Triad had "a good first quarter," Krochka said it was "sad to see it all go kaput," but quickly added he had "a lot more concern and sympathy for those small businesses [that were] not as established as Triad."

He said he told his staff, "We will get through this year one way or another."

There are currently 10 employees at Triad and Krochka said he is planning to move ahead with a pre-COVID-19 plan to hire an 11th staff member.

Krochka said there are "varying levels of comfort" among his employees on the subject of returning to work in the office.

Like Triad, Rick’s Electric, 215 Munroe Falls Ave., also received funding from a Cuyahoga Falls Community Development Block Grant. Andrea Collins, office manager at Rick’s Electric, said the relief grant provides "a little bit more flexibility" on what it can be used for compared with the PPP loan from the SBA. Collins said it "was kind of nice" to have the money available to the company for 90 days.

"The future is a little bit uncertain," said Collins.

While noting that payroll will be the first priority for the use of the grant money, Collins said the funds can be used for lease and rental payments on vehicles and equipment, as well as property, casualty and liability insurance expenses.

"We’re really grateful," stated Collins. "We really appreciate it … It makes a big difference."

Rick Bline, owner of Rick’s Electric, said his company is "still going pretty strong." He said his employees perform work at the sites of both new and remodeled homes, and added that a lot of jobs were already lined up before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Collins said work can continue per usual at the site of homes under construction since no one is living there yet. All eight full-time and two part-time employees at Rick’s have continued working during the past two months of the pandemic, according to Collins.

Bline acknowledged his company’s work on commercial properties had taken "more of a hit because a lot of stores aren’t operating." Collins also noted the company’s had a decline in the amount of residential service calls, possibly because more people may be concerned about a worker entering their home during COVID-19.

Bline said his company was in good shape before the coronavirus pandemic changed everyday life. In three-plus decades of business, Bline said his company has "never, ever been as busy" as it has been for the last three years. Collins agreed, noting it’s been "going gangbusters."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.