Businesses hit by new restrictions hope Hennepin County grants will provide relief

The pandemic continues to take a toll on local businesses. According to Hennepin County, restaurant employment in the county is down nearly 50 percent compared to last year, which is a loss of more than 25,000 jobs.

The county is now offering a final round of assistance through CARES Act funding.

“We are hopeful it’s providing a lifeline so they can get through until a vaccine is ready,” said Patricia Fitzgerald, the Community and Economic Development Manager.

On Nov. 23, the County launched a new round of emergency relief funding. Eight million dollars is available for restaurants, bars and food service establishments. Another $5 million dollars, remaining from previous rounds, is allocated for fitness facilities, event and entertainment venues.

“We’re seeing that it’s really becoming dire for businesses,” said Fitzgerald. "Not only having been hurting throughout this entire period, many have been operating for a fraction of the revenue and of course the costs remain nearly the same.”

Businesses have until Dec. 1 to apply. According to Fitzgerald, those who meet the requirements will be selected randomly through a lottery system. Fitzgerald expects grants will be distributed in mid-December. The county must use its CARES Act funding by Dec. 31.

At Mercado Central in Minneapolis, the latest state restrictions are another setback. Many businesses in the market were closed during the spring shutdown.

“For a few months it was just no revenue, no money,” said Fidencio Jimenez Cruz. “We’re still struggling.”

He owns Maria’s Restaurante, which opened four years ago, and an ice cream shop called Zero Degrees, which launched a year and a half ago. Both are located within the market.

He told us they’re once again feeling the loss of dine-in customers.

“They order and take it home but we have seen less people,” he said. “We know this will change eventually and we want to come back like normal.”

Jimenez Cruz plans to apply for this round of grants to help pay for rent. He said the pandemic has a ripple effect throughout the community.

“It makes it really hard not just for businesses but for families who maybe have lower hours or were just laid off,” he said. “Together, we can come back.”

Enriqueta Cruz Sanchez has operated a juice bar called La Reyna de los Jugos at Mercado Central since the market opened about 20 years ago. She spoke to us with the help of a translator.

“Our businesses are suffering and that’s why I am requesting the help of Hennepin County,” said Cruz Sanchez through the translator.

She told us without help, some businesses may close.

Cruz Sanchez hopes to use the grant money for improvements to her juice bar and to purchase supplies.

“We are not going to abandon Mercado and we hope we can get through this with the help of Hennepin County,” she said through a translator. “The pandemic has affected us deeply and we are trying to do everything we can do our community is not damaged and we can continue to move ahead and come out of these problems.”

Hennepin Count expects to help about 1,000 businesses with this last round of grants.

“There seems to be a lot of need, a lot of pain being felt right now in the business community so we’re really looking forward to sorting through the applications and funding as many eligible businesses as we can,” said Fitzgerald.

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