While small business owners scramble to apply for the various loan programs and grants now being offered at the state and federal level, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce is trying to help bridge the gap for those waiting for financial assistance.

On March 20, the Chamber Business Relief Fund was created to assist businesses who have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The GSCC seeded the fund with $15,000 and has received an additional $22,000 in contributions as of April 3. Thirty-five small businesses have already received grants, up to a maximum of $2,000 each.

Larry Goetz and his wife operate the two Auntie Anne’s locations at White Oaks Mall, which has been closed since non-essential businesses were ordered to cease operations on March 21. The couple bought the Springfield franchise in 1998, and Goetz said, “We don’t just own it, we work it.”

There are 11 employees altogether, and even though the business has closed, some of the expenses continue. “Our employees have health insurance, and that still has to be paid every month,” said Goetz. “There are a lot of other small expenses that people don’t notice. When the income gets shut off, you need anything you can get.”

Goetz admitted he didn’t have high hopes when he initially applied for the Chamber Business Relief Fund, especially since he isn’t a member of the Chamber. He said he has also applied for funding from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and a Small Business Administration disaster loan, but hasn’t heard anything yet. In addition, Goetz submitted an application through his bank for the Payment Protection Plan loan program offered as part of the federal stimulus package.  “They’re overwhelmed, I’m sure,” he said.

“Being closed for this long, it depletes our bank account, so when it comes time to open again, we have to have cash to get started, just to be able to do business,” Goetz said. He described the Chamber grant as “one of those little things that makes a big difference.”

Sara and Doug Camp own Fifth Street Flower Shop, 739 S. Fifth St., which closed on March 17, even before the governor’s orders. “We have an employee who is undergoing cancer treatment, so that was a huge concern,” said Sara Camp. “What little money we could make wasn’t worth jeopardizing his health.”

Unlike some other businesses, Fifth Street Flower Shop has not been able to transition to a delivery or curbside pick-up model. Camp noted that supply chain issues have caused the price of some flowers to triple, such as tulips from Holland. In addition, weddings, graduations and other events have all been canceled for the foreseeable future.

However, Camp said they have continued to pay their five full-time and one part-time employee, while waiting for assistance from both the state and federal governments.

“The statistics show that most small businesses only have 27 days’ worth of income at any time, and that was very true for us. We had enough money to pay all our bills for April, but had very little left,” she said.

“Everything I could apply for, I have. I’ve jumped through hoops to get all these documents filled out and scanned,” Camp said, noting that she used the websites for the Chamber and Downtown Springfield Inc. “to figure out what was real” and navigate all of the assistance options available to small business owners. Ironically, she admitted she was not currently a member of either organization after deciding not to pay dues this year as a cost-saving measure.

The one-page grant application from the Chamber was a welcome change, and a week later she had a check in hand.

Camp said, “It’s not a lot of money, but just to finally have somebody respond to you is a huge relief. I cried when I got the check; it made me feel like there was hope.”

Businesses, organizations, and community members who are able can make tax-deductible contributions to the Chamber Business Relief Fund by clicking the “Donate Now” button on www.gscc.org.  You can also text “RELIEF” to 866-612-5378, or mail a check payable to The Greater Springfield Chamber Foundation. Every dollar donated goes directly to the Fund as The Chamber is absorbing all administrative fees.  AlertsMadeEasy.com provided the “text to donate option” free of charge.