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A small-business lifeline: Valley CDC looks to award $600K in recovery money by year’s end

  • Candace Czerniak, owner of Knowles Flower Shop in Amherst, wraps an order Monday afternoon. The business secured $10,000 under a Small Business COVID Recovery Grant program administered by Valley Community Development Corp. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Candace Czerniak, owner of Knowles Flower Shop in Amherst, gets an order ready Monday. The business secured $10,000 under a Small Business COVID Recovery Grant program administered by Valley Community Development Corp. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Knowles Flower Shop in Amherst, owned by Candace Czerniak. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Candace Czerniak, owner of Knowles Flower Shop in Amherst, wraps an order Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Candace Czerniak, owner of Knowles Flower Shop in Amherst, gets an order ready on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2021

AMHERST — Candace Czerniak is succinct when she talks about how a soon-to-arrive $10,000 pandemic grant will help her Amherst business, Knowles Flower Shop.

“It’s going to mean I can continue to stay in business,” Czerniak said recently.

Czerniak said that her business shut down for six months during the pandemic, and that she’ll use the money for expenses such as payroll. Since the pandemic shutdown, Czerniak has not paid herself.

“The pandemic has really affected everything in the flower business,” she said, noting that the price on everything she needs to run the business has increased.

Knowles Flower Shop is just one of many small businesses in the region that have been able to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars to help with recovery — and in some cases, survival — from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal CARES Act money was set aside by the state under a Small Business COVID Recovery Grant program. Locally, the Northampton nonprofit Valley Community Development Corp. is administering two such COVID recovery programs. One in Amherst offers up to $10,000 to an eligible small business, while a regional program is awarding up to $25,000 for eligible small businesses in Easthampton, Westhampton, Southampton, Granby, Hadley, South Hadley, Hatfield, Agawam and Southwick.

As the lead community, Easthampton was awarded $1.168 million to distribute by the state, although Easthampton businesses have no special advantage when applying for these grants. Amherst was provided $140,000 to distribute.

As of last month, Valley CDC had distributed $613,071 in money from the regional grant and had $554,928 remaining to distribute. In Amherst, $81,759 had been distributed and approximately $50,000 remained for distribution.

Dee Dice serves as the small business director for Valley CDC and she supervises these programs.

“We had a slow start,” Dice said, noting that many other aid programs came out at the same time and the state changed the grants eligibility requirements numerous times.

However, the program is set to finish at the end of December, and Valley CDC is trying to make sure that all of the money is given away.

“Please, help us, take some money,” Dice said.

She said that the programs now have two consultants who are helping people to apply. “We want small businesses to have that (money),” she said.

To qualify for the funds, a business must have five or fewer employees, including the owner, part-timers and 1099 contractors. The owner must also be low- to moderate-income, and for Amherst it must have been in business before March 10, 2020.

The gross family income limit for both programs varies by household size, but for a family of four it is less than $67,300 a year.

“If you’re anywhere close to that … let us know and we’ll help you figure it out,” Dice said.

Another grant recipient, Beth McElhiney, owns Wonderland in Easthampton, a store that sells vintage clothing as well as jewelry and home goods. Like Czerniak, her business also shut down during the pandemic.

“My store got physically closed for three months,” she said.

She also said that the “clothing business was physically dead for a year,” both because after physical reopening dressing rooms could still not be used, and people were also afraid.

McElhiney said that Valley CDC was great to work with and makes the process of applying “so easy.”

“I’ve referred a whole bunch of people to it,” she said.

She also said that at first her business wasn’t eligible for funding because it hadn’t been open long enough, but then the requirement was changed.

McElhiney said her business has been surviving through its online store, but in-person business has been good for the last few weeks.

“People are feeling a change in the air and they’re looking for new outfits,” she said.

Those interested in applying for the funds can call 413-586-5855 extension 160, email covidgrants@valleycdc.com, or visit bit.ly/3wwQycf.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.