Weeks before Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Washington, Kirkland was feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Eastside city, which was the first epicenter of the virus outbreak that has sickened and killed thousands across the country.
Those impacts reverberated to the city’s 6,000 businesses, with many shutting down until at least May 4, when Inslee’s order is scheduled to be lifted. So when the city distributed information about a relief fund for small businesses, officials expected to receive more applications than they had grants available.
They were right: The $250,000 Kirkland Small Business Relief Fund had enough money for 250 recipients, and the coordinators received more than 750 applications. The 250 small businesses recently received their $1,000 checks in the mail.
Cities, states and the federal government have created relief funds for businesses of all sizes as they navigate an unprecedented shutdown. But Kirkland’s strategy was to provide small businesses with some money — as fast as possible — while they wait for more substantial funds, said Kirkland Assistant City Manager Jim Lopez.
“We are trying to get whatever money we can to the businesses while they navigate the complexities of the federal government,” Lopez said Friday. “Even $1,000 is going to be meaningful.”
Kirkland has had 284 positive cases of coronavirus, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County, making it one of the harder-hit cities in the county when comparing the number of people infected with total city population. More than half the cases are attributed to Life Care Center of Kirkland, where 167 residents, employees and visitors were sickened and 43 people died from COVID-19.
In early March, Kirkland’s businesses and not-for-profit organizations were feeling the impact of their city being thrust into the spotlight, when the virus was seemingly contained to only a few cities across the nation. Mayor Penny Sweet personally saw the impact among customers at the wine shop she co-owns in downtown Kirkland.
“We felt that need rush upon our city really quickly,” Lopez said. The need has continued, he added.
One of the recipients was Dakshin South Indian Bistro, a restaurant about three miles south of Life Care Center. Owner JP Shetty noticed “panic in the air” among customers starting on Feb. 29, when the first death was reported in Kirkland. From that day onward, business slowed. His family kept the restaurant open the first week of March, then closed for the rest of the month because it was too expensive, and they thought it might be a health risk for customers and employees.
The restaurant is open now for take out and delivery, but Shetty had to lay off two employees. He plans to use the $1,000 to pay utility bills. He’s also applied for state and federal business grants but has yet to receive a response.
“I haven’t heard from anybody for that, except Kirkland,” he said. “Small business is a tough business, and at this time, anything helps.”
The Kirkland Small Business Relief Fund was created with $250,000 donated by Google.org, the charity branch of Google, which has a campus in Kirkland. The Kirkland Chamber of Commerce and Banner Bank managed the application and distribution process.
The fund accepted applications in early April from commercial businesses and small not-for-profits that operate in Kirkland. To qualify, the businesses could have 25 full-time-equivalent employees or fewer and had to demonstrate a negative financial impact from the pandemic. They also had to be open or intend to open when the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted.
Recipients were chosen in part by evaluating revenue compared with last year, and availability of emergency funding.
Kirkland is also involved in an effort called reSTARTUP425, along with Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond and Renton. The Eastside cities are collaborating to provide businesses with one-to-one assistance as they apply for various relief programs and connect them with resources and information about subjects like loans, taxes and workplace resiliency.