$200K in Polk County resiliency grants recommended by committee

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    The Polk County Business Resiliency Grant Program committee for Crookston met Tuesday and approved $200,000 in grants for 39 of 41 applications from local businesses and nonprofits. Applications from DaRoos Pizza, which was previously operating in downtown Crookston, and Resource Management, which operates apartments near the Downtown Square, were denied.

    They also looked over 18 grant applications from outside of Crookston and made recommendations for the $100,000 available which will be decided at a later meeting with city and county leaders.

    The committee consisted of Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) board members Kurt Heldstab, Craig Buness and Leon Kremeier, City Council members Tom Vedbraaten and Wayne Melbye, plus CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth and City Administrator Amy Finch acting as liaisons.

    Crookston grant amounts approved were:

    • $9,000 – L & C Stahlecker & Sons DBA Crookston Inn, Grand Theatre, Irishman’s Shanty, Drafts Sports Bar & Grill, Functionally Fit, El Gordito, China Moon, Hong’s, Anytime Fitness, I.C. Muggs/Mugoos Pizza, VFW Post 1902, Crookston Eagles Club, RBJ’s Restaurant, Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream, AmericInn by Wyndham, and Cobblestone Hotel & Suites

    • $5,000 – Wonderful Life Foods

    • $3,000 – Erickson Embroidery, Gold Star Steam Cleaning, Holiday Store (gas station)

    • $2,500 – Heroes Rise Coffee Company, Joyful Heart Photography, Healing Hands Massage, Touch of Hands Massage, Synergy, Moon Child Massage, TLC Hair Care, Studio 108 (Stacy Nicholls), Studio 108 (Martha Newquist), Shear Sisters (Kari Trudeau), Cutting Edge Salon, Shear Sisters (T Durbin),

    • $2,000 – Crookston Firefighter’s Association, United Way of Crookston, Crookston Blue Line Club, Masonic Lodge, Polk County Historical Society, and YOU-Neek Impression salon (Maggie Rudnik)

    The Polk County Business Resiliency Grant Program was created to help sustain businesses in Polk County that demonstrate economic hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to help restore consumer confidence in the marketplace while reducing the spread of COVID-19. Grants were awarded based on demonstrated need.

DISCUSSION

    When the conversations first started, the Resiliency Grants committee wondered how they should go about considering the 40+ applications. Do they look at who was shut down the longest? Select a dollar amount for each business? Who was impacted the most? What if the business is no longer open?

    There was talk of the CARES Act funds provided through the state and the city’s previous two rounds of grants. There was talk about programs specifically for theaters and bars/restaurants, and if anyone local benefited from those.

    What about nonprofits? Hoiseth said the seven nonprofits that applied did qualify and the group immediately moved the VFW Post 1902 and Crookston Eagles Club to the bars/restaurants category to leave five nonprofits for consideration.

    “Nonprofits have struggled,” Hoiseth explained. “The Firefighters Association didn’t get to have their fundraising events or their fun night; the Blue Line Club live and die on hockey tournaments and how many did they get to have? Polk County Historical Society customers aren’t coming in and the museum was shut down.”

    “Look at the totality of the 40 (applications),” he added. “It’s a mathematical equation.”

    The conversation then veered off to discuss amounts applicants received from CARES Act grants, how the restaurants were impacted, and then on to, what could be perceived as the “elephant in the room”, DaRoos Pizza. Vedbraaten said he looks at the list of applicants and sees one business that “isn’t open anymore” to which Hoiseth asked if Vedbraaten thinks they should receive nothing. Vedbraaten told the group DaRoos has been shut down “for a long time” and “even through the first round” of shut downs, and later suggested a $1,000 grant for DaRoos.

    “I did interview them specifically and they stayed open the first week and couldn’t afford their utilities, light bill; they’re still paying the lease,” Hoiseth explained. “The business model they were successful in was the noon buffet model and the governor’s order shut down buffets. They have not been in business since the third week in March.”

    “If you give them anything it’s a gift,” Melbye interjected.

    Heldstab, Melbye and Vedbraaten then concluded they would give nothing to DaRoos and Hoiseth added that he knows DaRoos applied for their business in Fosston for the City of Fosston’s round of resiliency grants.

    Note: DaRoos Pizza in Crookston announced their business was for sale in November 2019, but remained open to customers while they worked with potential owners. In January 2020 they said the planned sale fell through but they would stay open until it sells. “Unfortunately a lot of people thought we closed and it hurt us,” they wrote on Facebook on January 8, 2020. They continued to post regularly with food specials or if stormy weather shut them down for the day. On March 2, 2020 they wrote that they were continuing to hear rumors they are closed or are closing and that it wasn’t the case. On March 17, 2020, they said they were open for carry-out and delivery only after hearing about the state mandate of no indoor dining then, on March 18, 2020, they announced they weren’t able to keep their doors open during the mandatory shut-down for indoor dining. They said they planned to reopen when the mandate was lifted. In June 2020 they posted they were still for sale, but would not be reopening under current management.

    The conversation then went back to nonprofits where Hoiseth offered $3,000 each and was met by $2,000 each for the five nonprofits adding up to $10,000 total for that category.

    When it was time to talk about bars and restaurants, it was first thrown out that $15,000 each could be a target but then Vedbraaten said “there won’t be much for the rest of them.” The group thought $7,500 was a likable amount.

    Wonderful Life Foods, which didn’t receive any money from either of the city’s CARES Act grant rounds, showed on their application they lost 10% of their business during a specified period and Hoiseth reminded the group that they were allowed to stay open for groceries. Heldstab said WLF “has a good following” and Melbye added that “it’s a unique place” and “they didn’t get anything the first go-around.” Kremeier offered up an amount of $5,000 and the group agreed.

    During discussion on Heroes Rise Coffee Company, which officially opened its doors on University Avenue on December 1 though their drive-thru was open a month earlier, the group agreed while they weren’t open very long their business was “certainly pandemic impacted” and agreed with Hoiseth’s suggestion of $2,000. That amount was later raised to $2,500.

    The committee put Holiday Store’s application on hold while they discussed the others and moved to massage parlors where Melbye said $2,000 “would certainly help.” Gold Star Steam Cleaning was next on the list and it was noted they did not have to shut down. Vedbraaten threw out an offer of $5,000 and was countered by Melbye who said $3,000, and the group agreed.

    The hotels in the community were lumped into the bars/restaurants/gyms/theaters category of what was initially an amount of $7,500 each and was later raised to $9,000.

    Resource Management, apartment owners, told Hoiseth in a phone call that they’ve “taken a beating” with the governor’s orders as tenants aren’t required to pay rent nor are evictions allowed, but the committee held their ground saying money might be coming from the state for landlords that have been affected by the executive orders. Vedbraaten said he “can’t see the landlords have to eat all that” and Melbye thought assistance would be coming their way in the form of a tax write-off or credit ultimately leading to the committee decision to deny Resource Management’s application.

    Later, the group approved $3,000 for Holiday Store (gas station) and Erickson Embroidery after noting a decrease in the amount of people not driving to work or school for Holiday and the impact of no sporting events or special orders, or shopping at Erickson Embroidery. When Hoiseth brought up DaRoos Pizza for the second time the group again agreed on denying the application and Melbye added his concern if people were to see the list of grants accepted “in the paper” and they awarded DaRoos “$3,000 or $7,000” then “they’re going to say - my God, what the hell are they doing.” Melbye did acknowledge they were still paying on their lease and Buness added that he thought DaRoos were going to close after the Love family, former managers of the restaurant, left which was before the pandemic.

    After those discussions, it was determined there was some money left over and the group thought about adding $2,000 to the bars/restaurants/gyms/theater/hotels group making their grants $9,500 each. Finch asked if they should consider moving that amount to $9,000 and “doing more for nonprofits” which reminded Hoiseth of another application that he did not include in their committee packet that had arrived after the city’s CARES Act grant rounds, but before the Polk County Resiliency Grant announcement. He said he was forwarded the application from Polk County Administrator Chuck Whiting in December for Maggie Rudnik’s YOU-Neek hair salon that is located inside the building where Cutting Edge hair salon is. The group agreed on $2,000 for Rudnik and Hoiseth said she’d “be happy” with that.

The Polk County Resiliency Grants committee for Crookston met Tuesday