St. Paul business owners, families getting some relief during COVID-19 pandemic

Hundreds of families and small businesses in St. Paul are getting help during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is providing $4.1 million in Bridge Fund grants.

The program was funded through $3.25 million from the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority, plus donations from the Bush Foundation, Ecolab Foundation and other organizations.

“It filled the gaps,” said David Mess, the owner of Buttercream Cakes and Desserts.

Sixty percent of his business are weddings, which are currently restricted in size. Many couples are deciding to postpone until 2021.

“When the middle of March hit, it was like a true gut punch,” he said. “I mean, we were getting set up for a busy, robust 2020 wedding season and in the matter of one day everything changed […] we had already planned and detailed out about 300 weddings for this season.”

He said, due to postponements, they now already have 260 weddings on the books for 2021.

“At this point, we’re even doing double changes for the people that had canceled or postponed in March, April and May and took a date in August and September,” said Mess. “For September, everyone is rescheduling and this time they’re saying we’re just going to wait until 2021.”

It’s a hit to this year’s revenue. They’ve also had to reduce the order size for weddings that now have a smaller guest list.

In addition, Mess lost more than 400 graduation cake orders.

“After the initial hit we had to do some heavy-duty regrouping,” he said. “I took some long walks to figure out how to put this thing back together."

Mess applied for the St. Paul Bridge Fund grant.

“When you’re going through something like that, you still have the utility bills, you have the rent you negotiated or whatever, you still have the insurance, you still have the workman’s comp,” said Mess. “You have all of that.”

Bridge Fund grants were awarded to 380 businesses, with each receiving $7,500.

Ninety percent of the recipients said they were ordered closed under one of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders.

“Just having the grant was great because when we got it, we still hadn’t figured out a lot of the details for our continued financing package,” said Mess. “What the grant did is it opened up doors of should I look at this, or look at that, as far as financing.”

According to the city, more than 2,000 businesses applied for the funding. The applicants were placed into a random selection process, where each was assigned a number. Applications were then reviewed in order of their selection number and “awarded in their numerical order.”

Thirty-seven percent of the businesses who were awarded with a grant are in Areas of Concentrated Poverty (ACP50) where 50% or more of the residents are people of color. It’s the same percentage as those who applied, according to the city.

On Snelling Avenue N., Turu Badaso was forced to close Sunshine Beauty Salon for about two months due to an executive order.

“It was a hard time, I love to work,” she said. “My rent is $3,100, I have utilities, I have a family – three kids.”

The Bridge Fund grant is now helping her cover her essential business expenses, as she waits for her clients to start returning to the salon.

“Business is very slow,” said Badaso. “It’s very slow, only appointments.”

Many of her clients, she said, are still too worried about COVID to visit the salon. It’s a stark contrast from last summer when Badaso’s waiting area was packed with people.

"This was a super busy time," she said.

She was also affected by the unrest in Midway following George Floyd’s death. Her air conditioner was damaged and now has to be replaced.

Badaso has owned her salon for a year and a half now, moving to Minnesota from Virginia to be closer to family.

“I’m not giving up,” she said.

Families have also received assistance from the Bridge Fund. St. Paul officials say 5,200 families applied for a $1,000 grant.

Of those, 1,265 families were awarded the funding. Sixty-three percent were from ACP50 areas, 66% are renters, 37% said layoff or furlough contributed to their hardship and 22% cited reduced hours as a reason for their application.