NORDONIA HILLS — The COVID-19 pandemic hit at an especially awkward time for Rich Myers’ tax business, and for Gerardo and Bonney Novarro, it forced a complete change in how their restaurant operates.

Myers, a Sagamore Hills resident. owns three Liberty Tax franchise offices, one in Tallmadge and two in Akron. The shutdown in weeks leading up to the April 15 tax filing deadline came at what normally is an especially busy one.

"Our business fell off quite a bit, and we didn’t have our usual April 15 rush due to people not wanting to venture out and due to the lengthening of tax season until July 15," said Myers.

Bonney Novarro said Compadres Grill Mexican Restaurant in Northfield Village was also hard hit, as dine-in operations were prohibited in March.

"So when it first happened, we definitely were not ready or equipped for to-go only," she said.

But help for Myers and the Novarros should be close. Myers’ company and Compadres Grill are two of more than 300 small businesses expected to receive as much as $5,000 as part of the Summit County COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program, according to a recently released list.

Other area businesses on the list include Crossroads Chiropractic Center at 9320 Olde Eight Road in Northfield Center and Element Dance Company at 822 East Aurora Road in Macedonia.

Owners of Crossroads Chiropractic declined to comment for this story through an employee. Phone calls seeking comment from Element Dance Company were not returned.

The grant program is an initiative of the county and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, with the Chamber distributing nearly $1.55 million to 311 businesses. Initial funding was provided by the county, Akron, JumpStart — a non-profit regional organization that provides assistance to entrepreneurs — and KeyBank. Additional funding came from the Hudson-based Burton D. Morgan Foundation, private donors and Summit County communities, including Barberton, Bath, Copley, Coventry, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Green, Mogadore, Norton, and Tallmadge.

Summit County Excutive Ilene Shapiro thanked the donors and the Chamber.

"These grants put desperately needed funds into the hands of small businesses bearing the brunt of this economic crisis," she said.

Bonney Novarro said it became obvious during the first week after the stay-at-home order was issued that the business would have to change its focus to carryout.

"We closed for a week-and-a-half and then we came back with a plan," she said. "That was our main challenge. We were not ready. We did not have enough time to get ready."

Myers said tax preparers were listed as essential businesses by the state and allowed to remain open. However, precautions were taken.

"We reorganized our offices to ensure social distancing — using tables to separate parts of our offices and to ensure a safe distance for customers we were working with at our desks," he said. "We started doing returns by appointment only and limited the number of customers in the office at any one time to one or two. Liberty rolled out a virtual tax preparation option that we’ve used for customers who were most comfortable not coming to the office, and that has worked well. We have a seasonal business but we’re open year round."

Myers said the number of employees he has fluctuates, from a handful currently to 15 or more full- and part-time employees during tax season, the first few months of the year until April 15. During tax season, each of his offices are open 58 to 76 hours usually, but with the stay-at-home order, this was reduced to 50 hours a week.

"Our business fell off quite a bit, and we didn’t have our usual April 15 rush due to people not wanting to venture out and due to the lengthening of tax season until July 15," said Myers.

Myers said that although his offices do handle some tax-related issues after April 15, with the filing deadline delayed three months, he is scheduling his summer hours at 25 to 30 hours weekly per office, about three times the norm.

"I am doing this to accommodate customers that are coming in now instead of back in March or April, and to try to keep some employees on payroll during the pandemic as other employment is harder than usual to find," said Myers, adding that he plans on using the grant funds to help with added payroll expenses this summer. He said he expects payroll will actually be a larger percentage of his revenue this year than it normally is.

"In the end, our business will be less profitable this year due to the pandemic, but by maintaining our availability to customers and providing hours to our employees we expect to be able to bounce back next year when hopefully most of the issues we are dealing with now will be resolved."

Novarro said Compadres Grill’s 10 employees have been kept on the payroll, but their hours have been cut with the restaurant only open temporarily from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays.

"[The grant is] definitely going to help us to cover some of the bills that we got behind on during all this going on," she said. "We’ll probably use it to cover the rent."

To be eligible for the grant program, businesses have to have from three to 25 employees, with at least half living in Summit County. More than 1,000 businesses had applied by the April 13 deadline.

Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, jsaunders@recordpub.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.