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City loans help firms

Program doles out more than $100K to 40 businesses

Staff photo / Raymond L Smith Manuel Koupiaris, left, an employee of Trumbull Family Fitness, takes information from member Chris Nalbach on Friday. The gym was one of about 40 Warren businesses that received a portion of more than $100,000 in forgivable loans through the CV-19 Business Support Program administered by Warren’s Community Development Department.

WARREN — Trumbull Family Fitness has placed wall-mounted thermometers and plexiglass dividers and purchased hundreds of dollars of sanitizing equipment, supplies, masks and other personal protective equipment with the $5,000 it received from a grant provided by the city’s Community Development Department.

The downtown fitness center received a portion of $109,002 in forgivable loans already provided to businesses and nonprofits located in the city. Officials expect to provide a total of $127,000 in loans and grants by the time all the loan requests are processed.

Since the CV-19 Business Support loan program began in May, approximately 63 companies and businesses applied to receive up to $5,000 in loans and grants through the program. It is expected that 40 of the applicants have or will receive a portion of the funds.

“This loan was very important to us,” Paulette Edington, executive director of the 92-year old facility, said. “Receiving this money made it easier to decide to reopen after Gov. (Mike) De-Wine’s order allowed gymnasiums to open.”

“We may have been able to open without it, but not at the level that we did,” Edington said.

Trumbull Family Fitness received the maximum $5,000 loan.

The fitness center is operating at one-third of the capacity it had been when it was forced to close in mid-March because of the state’s effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, the fitness center averaged about 2,000 members. Today, it has closer to 700 members.

“We are optimistic that more people will return,” Edington said. “Summer usually is our slow season, so as the season changes, we’re expecting more people to return.”

The city established its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic (CARES) Act small business loan program after the Community Development Department received $702,138 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the time, it was decided to use part of the funds to provide loans / grants to businesses that were impacted by the pandemic.

The money could be used to replace perishable items lost due to pandemic related closures or to purchase related supplies. They were not available to purchase items or equipment not related to the pandemic, such as cash registers, vehicles, etc.

Those businesses approved for for the loans by Warren Redevelopment and Planning were required to spend the loan amounts within two months after receiving them. They also had to provide receipts proving how the funds were used.

Afterwards, the loan amount will be forgiven by 20 percent each month for the next five months.

“Effectively, after the seven months, the loans are forgiven,” Anthony Iannucci, executive director of WRAP, said.

Approximately a fourth of the businesses approved for the funds were restaurants or stores that sold food products.

New restaurants, such as Charbonnay Winery and West and Main, as well as older ones, such as Sunrise Inn, Mocha House and Up A Creek, also qualified, so long as they could establish pandemic-related losses.

“This money was very important,” Gabriel Gouvas, co-owner of West & Main Restaurant on Courthouse Square, said. “When we were forced to close in March, we lost all of our perishable items, including food and alcohol. We had to replace them.”

West & Main also received the maximum $5,000 loan amount.

Some businesses requested and received lower amounts, including St. Paul’s Children Rainbow Daycare, which received $3,800, and All American Cards and Comics, which asked for $150 to purchase PPE and masks.

Michael Keys, executive director of the city’s Community Development Department, said a portion of the money received from HUD was used to provide approximately $49,000 to Coleman Professional Services to find housing for homeless people, $12,000 to a domestic violence shelter and $7,000 to Warren’s SCOPE, which was used to deliver groceries to elderly residents who could not leave their homes.

Keys is finalizing plans to do a second business loan program. However, the loans provided in the second program will not be forgivable. The loan amounts are expected to be larger.

“They will be very low interest,” Keys said.

He said he expects to announce that program within the next week.

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