Littleton business owners plead for help as city weighs grant program

City facing its own shortfalls, talks giving cash to struggling shops and restaurants

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/16/20

Littleton city officials are hashing out plans to provide grants to struggling small businesses in coming weeks, but some business owners say the money can't come soon enough. City council discussed …

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Littleton business owners plead for help as city weighs grant program

City facing its own shortfalls, talks giving cash to struggling shops and restaurants

Posted

Littleton city officials are hashing out plans to provide grants to struggling small businesses in coming weeks, but some business owners say the money can't come soon enough.

City council discussed creating a fund to boost small businesses hit by the COVID-19 shutdowns at its April 14 study session, proposing using $400,000 in funds left over after the dissolution of the city's urban renewal authority in February.

Council said it would discuss the terms of a program at an upcoming study session, meaning the soonest a formal decision would come is at the May 5 regular council meeting.

Other metro area cities, including Denver and Englewood, have already begun grant programs for struggling small businesses.

“If we had the opportunity to keep local businesses operating sooner rather than later, it's incumbent on us to do it,” Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin told council at the meeting. “If we're agile and get a grant program together, we could make a difference. These two weeks are a crucial time.”

No kidding, say some local business owners.

“The city needs to jump in and help,” said Keven Kinaschuk, the owner of McKinners Pizza Bar in downtown Littleton. “We've been on our own. The city could at least figure out a game plan.”

Kinaschuk said he laid off 18 of his 24 employees in the days after Gov. Jared Polis ordered all restaurants to halt dine-in service in March, and the restaurant's take-out service is only covering a quarter of normal sales.

Kinaschuk said he applied for all federal relief funds he was eligible for, but hadn't received a penny as of April 15. The Paycheck Protection Program, a federal relief effort intended to cover payroll costs for small businesses, ran out of money on April 16, just two weeks after it opened, according to news reports.

Meanwhile, Kinaschuk said, nobody from the City of Littleton has reached out to him to see what his needs are. He floated ideas like suspension of some city fees. He likes the idea of a grant program, but said time is of the essence.

“If the federal government doesn't come through, and I'm not convinced they will, it'll be lights out for a lot of people, including probably me,” Kinaschuk said.

Other local business owners echoed Kinaschuk. Kelly Kaliszewski, the owner of Zoey's Place, a specialty pet food store on Alamo Street, said a small grant from the city could make a world of difference.

Like Kinaschuck, Kaliszewski has applied for federal relief, but said the process was byzantine and confusing, and she hasn't seen any money yet. With her curbside service only accounting for a fraction of her sales, she's looking at laying off her only employee and wondering how she'll make rent.

“I wish the city was in a position to offer us something,” she said. “If things continue the way they are, I couldn't afford to stay in business.”

Several other Littleton businesses who spoke to Colorado Community Media said they had not yet received any federal funds.

Pat Dunahay, co-president of the Littleon Business Chamber, said he's not sold on the idea of small business grants, saying the city is facing its own financial hardships. Dunahay said his business, PDA Road Gear, received more than $150,000 in federal payroll protection money, and urged business owners to hold out.

“There are better places for the city to spend their money than short-term grants,” Dunahay said. “That's a Band-Aid, and I don't think the city can afford it.”

With sales tax accounting for more than three-quarters of the city's general fund, widespread business closures and reduced sales could mean a reduction of around 25% in city revenues in the next two quarters, city finance director Tiffany Hooten told council.

“The hardest part is the unknown,” Hooten said. “Maybe 25% is too little or too much, but we won't know until we get more data.”

Such a shortfall, anticipated to be several million dollars, will necessitate big cuts to the city budget, said City Manager Mark Relph.

“The magnitude of this is more than a reduction of programs and pens and pencils,” Relph said. “We're talking about reducing services and staff. It'll be very difficult and unpopular. Just to maintain our financial integrity, we have to do it.”

The city is working to address the problems facing small businesses, said Denise Stephens, the city's economic development director. City staff are coordinating with Englewood to make the most of an “economic enterprise zone” covering parts of both cities that could make businesses eligible for regional grant funding, and disseminating lists of businesses still open.

Stephens also said her office sent fliers touting the city to site selectors for corporate chains, and heard positive responses from companies like Qdoba, Starbucks and Safeway.

Councilmember Carol Fey questioned what the city would not be able to do if it disbursed the urban renewal funds to local businesses, and how businesses would be selected to receive funds.

“We have business people in Littleton who frequently flaunt how rich they are and how successful their businesses are,” Fey said. “It wouldn't make sense to give them more money when we have other needs. ”

Fey said she wanted to ensure that businesses that received funds would be able to stay in business long-term to continue generating tax revenue for the city.

“If they're going to die in two weeks, they're not in good condition,” Fey said.

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