New grants aim to help Bay Area small businesses survive pandemic downturn

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- We've seen so many small businesses shut down during the pandemic. Those struggling to stay open are getting a lifeline from a new wave of grants. The economy is part of Building A Better Bay Area.

Alicia Infante runs a floral and gift shop in East San Jose, a community hard hit by high COVID-19 infection rates and an economic downturn. It's a struggle to stay in business.

"They're at the end of their rope," said Rolando Bonilla, creator of the East San Jose COVID Relief Fund. "They're recognizing that the credit card can't be maxed anymore. The house is now on the line."

Bonilla, a San Jose planning commissioner, put up $5,000 of his own money and started a grassroots relief fund to make sure small businesses don't fail in East San Jose. The first two grants have been made.

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"We're fighting to save businesses because once we lose them, the negative effects will be generational."

A big concern is how many small businesses won't return as the recovery begins. As of last month, a study by Beacon Economics says half of them in San Francisco are closed compared to a year ago. It's 40% in the South Bay and 37% in the East Bay.

"Closing the business all in all was not an option, but definitely changing how we were doing things was a must," said Jaynelle St. Jean, who owns a small business called Pietisserie.

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She used to have a shop near Oakland's Lake Merritt, but had to scale back and sell online. She just received a small business grant from Sunnyvale-based Clover.

Clover and its parent company, Fiserv, have committed $50 million for grants across the country, along with support from its technology service for small and medium businesses.

Whether it's Pietisserie or a small shop in another town, there's awareness that small businesses create jobs, support families, and provide important services in their communities. A grant could be the boost they need.

"Seventy-five percent of business are saying that they're more focused on taking matters into their own hands and find a way to thrive. So I think the grants are important, but I think they realize that they have more control over their own future," said Rene Lacerte, CEO of bill.com.

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The grant organizers want to kindle a can-do spirit.

"Let's get through this," said Jeff Dickerson, head of Clover. "All the economic data we're seeing in small and medium businesses are going to start popping back in a significant way this summer."

To apply for the Clover-Fiserv grant program, visit their website here.

To apply for the East San Jose COVID Relief Fund, visit their website here.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.
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