In early January this year, during the height of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, the Select Board authorized $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support local businesses and $50,000 for nonprofits to be distributed through two separate grant programs. More recently, in early April, Town Manager Jim Malloy requested additional ARPA funding for businesses as the initial $250,000 had been distributed but some were still submitting applications and demonstrating a need for this support – bringing the total for businesses to $600,000.
Now, all of the funding from these two grant programs has been allocated through three rounds of agreements, though some of the third-round agreements are still being processed.
Who are the recipients, and what have they used the funds for?
LexObserver reached out to seven of the 28 business recipients and four of the six nonprofit recipients, and heard from two organizations from each pool by press time.
Grant awards for small businesses ranged from $6,000 to $25,000, with most awards of $25,000. For nonprofits, awards ranged from $5,000 to $10,000. You can see a full list of the recipients and the amounts they received according to Economic Development Director Sandhya Iyer below:
|SMALL BUSINESS GRANT||AMOUNT|
|Abbott’s Frozen Custard||$15,000|
|Help Around Town||$10,000|
|We Are Talking||$20,000|
|Lexington Power Yoga||$25,000|
|DC Samuel Salon||$25,000|
|Great Harvest Bakery||$20,000|
|Stephanie Louis Salon||$25,000|
|Elite Freestyle Karate||$25,000|
|First Lash LLC||$15,000|
|Alexander’s Famous Pizza, Inc||$20,000|
|Paula Donovan, Inc.||$15,000|
|Nature’s Way Cleaner||$25,000|
|Creative Expressions Salon||$25,000|
|ROUND 3 TOTAL||$350,000|
|NONPROFIT ARTS & CULTURAL GRANT||AMOUNT|
|Special Needs Arts Program||$5,000|
|Munroe Center for the Arts||$10,000|
|Lexington Farmers’ Market||$10,000|
|Lexington Historical Society||$5,000|
|New Legacy Cultural Center, Inc.||$10,000|
Why they applied, and how they are using the funding
Lexington Power Yoga, a yoga and barre studio that has been in the Town Center for about a decade, received $25,000 in funding during the second round of distribution. “We applied for the funding because COVID has hit our business and the whole fitness industry very hard,” LPY Co-Owner Jillian McDonough wrote in an email to LexObserver. “While fitness was as impacted as restaurants in terms of closings and reduced revenues fitness did not receive the same federal relief such as the Restaurant Revitalization [Fund].“
Lexington Power Yoga has tried many strategies to keep business going during COVID, from livestreams to increased cleanings and installing air purifiers. Nonetheless, “we still find that people are cautious and often not ready to return,” McDonough wrote. Others did not want to practice with the mask mandate, which remained in place until March 9. “All of these measures and many more things have increased the cost of business while our revenue has dropped more than 40%,” McDonough explained.
Even after the mask mandate was lifted, and some normalcy has returned, Lexington Power Yoga has yet to reach pre-covid numbers of customers despite running a full schedule of classes. “For all of these reasons we were so grateful to apply for the town [ARPA] grant,” McDonough summarized. Their funding “went towards our rent, utilities and payroll” and has helped “supplement and stabilize the studio” for the last few months.
Il Casale, a well-established Italian restaurant in the Town Center with two sister restaurants in Belmont, has been among the many eateries hit hard by the pandemic. They’ve been selected to receive a third-round grant of $25,000, but have yet to receive the funds because some applications from the most recent round are still being processed. “The third round recipients should be receiving the funds in a maximum of two to three weeks,” Iyer wrote in an email to LexObserver.
Once they receive the funding, “that will definitely help with all the labor and the rent,” Co-Owner Filippo de Magistris told LexObserver.
De Magistris recalled applying for the grant as soon as it came out, back in January, he said. Omicron presented a new challenge for Il Casale and other restaurants. “Our goal was to hold on to everybody [on staff],” de Magistris explained. “Because… it’s just the right thing to do, A; and B) Right now is the time when we’re starting to get busier” – so losing staff before the spring and summer rush could have hurt business even more. Il Casale managed to retain their staff “even though sales were obviously rough for everybody.” Throughout the pandemic, federal programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and state grants have helped Il Casale get by. Still, during Omicron, “we did have to float the restaurant a bit with some of our own funds,” De Magistris said.
On the nonprofit front, the Lexington Historical Society received $5,000 in funding from the Town in the third round of distribution. The Historical Society “lost revenue opportunities throughout the COVID shutdown,” Executive Director Carol Ward wrote in an email to LexObserver. While many other grants the Historical Society applies for and receives are project-based, the ARPA funding was especially helpful to them because it could be used for General Operating Support (GOS). In addition to supporting daily operations, the funding bankrolls Historical Society programs including the Paul Revere Ride, she added.
“What I really want to achieve with the ARPA funding and beyond is to make people aware that not only is the Historical Society back open for business, but we’ve expanded our offerings, programs and events and people should come back to explore again, or for the first time!” Ward summarized.
Also in the third round of distribution, the Lexington Farmers’ Market received $10,000 from the non-profit arts and cultural grant program. The Farmers’ Market was able to remain open from the early days of the pandemic after Governor Charlie Baker named farmers’ markets an essential service, Board President Leslie Wilcott-Henrie wrote in an email to LexObserver. Among many measures taken to adapt to pandemic conditions, the Farmers’ Market decreased the number of market participants (to provide increased physical distancing), reduced fees for farmers and vendors, and added health and safety protocols. “Opening the market was a commitment the LFM made to those who depended on us, and we did it with a great deal of community support,” Wilcott-Henrie wrote. “Coming to the LFM was a bit of ‘normal’ in an upside down world.”
Nonetheless, due to the pandemic changes and constraints, along with “increase in expenses for materials related to safety protocols and a substantial increase in folks needing food assistance, the LFM lost over 50% of revenue in 2020,” Wilcott-Henrie wrote. In 2021, revenue “was somewhat up from 2020 [but] it was nowhere near 2019 levels,” she added.
The Farmers’ Market offers a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Match program; the program provides an additional $15 per market for customers accessing SNAP. Demand for the program increased more than 25% in 2020, and remained at that level in 2021, according to Wilcott-Henrie. In response, “the LFM spent over $10,000 of privately raised funds to maintain a dependable, consistent dollar match that our customers could rely upon, the highest number we’ve ever recorded,” Wilcott-Henrie added.
The Lexington Farmers’ Market applied for ARPA funding “so the LFM can continue to meet the increasing need for food assistance in the community, not just during the pandemic but as we move forward, while working to build back funds available for market operations and educational outreach,” Wilcott-Henrie wrote. The funding has provided SNAP Match funding and administrative support for the market, and “to work to restore programs around nutrition, healthy eating, the environmental benefits of shopping local, and expanding customer understanding of food assistance programs and the need for them in our community.” Helping customers in need of food assistance access these programs is an important piece of the LFM’s service, so “this funding helps support the LFM Market Manager’s work with food insecure customers on market days.”
How organizations found out about the funding
Lexington Power Yoga heard about the grant opportunity in an email from Lexington Retailers’ Association President Eric Michelson. “The economic [development] group also did a great job advertising it in their newsletters,” McDonough added.
De Magistris found out about the grant from the Chamber of Commerce, where he is on the Board of Directors, and the Lexington Center Committee, he said.
Ward recalled receiving an email from the Town about the opportunity, and was informed by a couple of Board members who received emails from Town stakeholders, she wrote.
Wilcott-Henrie found out by chance. “I was on the Lexington town website looking for some information on a town program not related to the farmers’ market, and I saw the announcement for the grant on the right hand side of the homepage,” she wrote. “We were not contacted by the town at all about the potential for the grant so I was relieved that by sheer luck I spotted it on the website.”
Gratitude to the Town
All of the businesses and nonprofits interviewed expressed gratitude to the Town for the grant opportunity. The Economic Development Office has even received some hand-written thank you notes.
“We love this community so much,” McDonough wrote. As another idea for a way to support Lexington Power Yoga and similar businesses, “We would love for the town, our state and the federal government to campaign for healthier living and fitness and to help dispel the worries that gyms might be more prone to covid than other places.”
De Magistris thinks the Town had a “good process” for the grant funding and appreciates the Town “stepping up and making this available.” He’s also grateful to customers for keeping the restaurant going throughout the pandemic; “we’ve had enough sales and people coming in and support from the community, from take-out to regular dine-in, that we were able to make it to where we are now.”
“The town is doing a great job with working with us on economic support,” Ward wrote. They Historical Society is currently working with the Economic Development Office on a grant to fund print and digital marketing to increase awareness of the Society’s events and programs as well.
“The LFM is incredibly grateful to the Town of Lexington for the opportunity to apply for the grant, and for understanding the importance of organizations like ours to the health and well-being of the community,” Wilcott-Henrie wrote. “The effects of the pandemic are far-reaching and long-lasting, particularly for those in need, and we always welcome any assistance from the town to shore up the stability of our food assistance efforts.”