For downtown Manassas businesses seeking help through the COVID-19 crisis, some small relief could be on the way.
The city is applying for a new Main Street grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, asking for the $25,000 maximum to help businesses with rent payments. At the same time, Historic Manassas is hoping to match a portion of those funds through a fundraising campaign.
Manassas Economic Development Director Patrick Small said the city hopes to offer affected businesses grants of up to $3,000 apiece. Because the grant is through the Virginia Main Street Program, only businesses in the downtown area would be eligible, although Small said he’d like to be able to offer more for businesses outside of Old Town.
“I still would like to see the state step up with other programs,” he said Tuesday. “But every opportunity like this that we’re eligible to apply for we will.”
Historic Manassas is also hoping to kick in some assistance. The non-profit has set up a Support Downtown Manassas Small Business GoFundMe page and had raised almost $1,000 in the first four days.
Whatever amount, big or small, the group reaches, Executive Director Debbie Haight said it will go to downtown businesses for rent relief. She said she is worried about what the previously growing Old Town dining and shopping scene could look like when social-distancing restrictions are lifted.
“I have no idea. Though we have a relationship with all our businesses, and we have the conversations with them, it’s not on a level that I know they can survive for four months or four weeks or two months. Businesses don’t open up their books so I don’t know,” Haight said.
Shops and restaurants that survive could get some revenue boost from a state policy change once the state reopens for business.
Haight said the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority will be expanding its outdoor open container permits, providing participating municipalities 16 permits per fiscal year, up from 12. Haight said that as soon as the city can safely organize the events, like First Fridays, where visitors can order and consume alcoholic drinks to go within a certain geographic boundary, the organization will try to provide as many opportunities as possible to help local businesses.
“We have to get that foot traffic right to their front doors whenever we can,” Haight said. “I know they’re all struggling.”