Release Date: September 18,2020

Downtown Akron Partnership Distributes $100,000 in COVID-19 Recovery Grant Money to Downtown Akron Businesses

September 18, 2020, Akron, Ohio — Today, Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) announced the release of grant awards to 72 businesses from the Downtown Akron COVID-19 Recovery Grant program. Funds were distributed from a $100,000 grant to DAP through United Way of Summit and Medina from the Akron/Summit County COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund. DAP worked with a multidisciplinary team of professionals including local government, law, nonprofit, philanthropy and private sector businesses to design the blind selection and award process.

President and CEO of DAP Suzie Graham said, "We're grateful to be able to provide COVID Recovery Grants to a number of our downtown businesses at such a challenging time and appreciate the leadership of the Emergency Support Fund partners in recognizing the importance of downtown as a critical part of a healthy city and region."

A list of businesses receiving grants is available at downtownakron.com.

The Downtown Akron COVID-19 Recovery Grants prioritized minority entrepreneurs and storefront/retail businesses in the 42-block Special Improvement District. Retail, personal service, entertainment and restaurant businesses have been significantly challenged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as they navigate mandated shut downs and operating restrictions, health code changes and compliance, and reduced foot traffic due to stay-at-home orders and remote working. Grant funds can used for operating and business expenses such as rent, utilities, payroll, and inventory, but are not for use in covering capital expenses or costs associated with expansion or relocation.

"National data shows that storefronts and minority owned businesses are struggling disproportionately," Graham said. "Those same small businesses are the ones we count on to make a vibrant, liveable community. They are an essential part of our ecosystem, and the fabric of the neighborhood. We know that there simply aren't enough resources to meet the need that exists, but we will continue to strive to assist them in any way we can."

Assistance was provided to many downtown storefront business owners, new and seasoned, each of whom contributes to Akron through the local economy, and by helping create a safe, vibrant downtown for all people.

Sapreea English, owner of Hair Geek Studio, opened her doors downtown in June of 2017 with help from DAP's Pop Up Retail program-now Start Downtown-supported by Burton D. Morgan Foundation. Over the past three years, her passion for Akron shines beyond her efforts in serving clients in the salon, as a community organizer for school backpack giveaways, by collecting prom gowns for students and helping find child care for single parents.

"I worked triply hard to insure that I remained open and continued to be the example that I set out to be! It was important to be downtown to be in the center of all demographics. Not only am I still able to support the inner city where I grew up, but my business adds to its essence. I've always wanted to see my city grow and it's important to me to be a part of that growth in the right direction," said English.

Charlie Somtrakool has operated Cilantro Thai and Sushi near the corner of Main and Exchange Streets for more than ten years. Throughout the pandemic, Somtrakool has deployed numerous strategies-from delivery and curbside service, to distanced seating and constant cleaning-to keep his team employed and able to provide for their families. Somtrakool was born in the United States but grew up in Thailand. He came back to the United States for education and found his passion for entrepreneurship and hospitality. He has built the business from the ground up with patience, grit and commitment to service.

Michael Martell and Claudia Zeber-Martell of Zeber-Martell Gallery and Clay Studio have operated for almost 35 years. The couple slowly built their Northside business from a small space tucked away in the 43 Furnace building to a beautiful, street-facing gallery of locally and nationally-crafted art, jewelry and ceramics. No strangers to resilience and the entrepreneurial spirit, the ceramicist/painter duo worked for years driving all over the country to sell their work in the show circuit. It wasn't until 2011 that they were able to invest in building out their new space and operate as a storefront.

"These are definitely challenging times," said Zeber-Martell. "People naturally still want to enjoy beautiful things in their lives, even when their budgets are smaller. We've been able to customize the products we create to meet our customers where they are. Our sales are definitely down, but we are staying open, and we are keeping our staff on the payroll. We are just really grateful to be able to do this work, and to have our community support us."

"While we're very glad to get this grant money into businesses downtown, it's no substitute for the revenue brought in by customers. We all can play a part in helping to make sure our small businesses remain when COVID-19 is a distant memory. You can support businesses by purchasing gift cards, frequenting storefronts while wearing your mask and practicing safe distancing, using carry out as opposed to delivery when possible, and ordering online," Graham said. "Every effort makes a difference." 

The Akron/Summit County COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund was created through a partnership of United Way of Summit County, the City of Akron, the County of Summit, Akron Public Schools, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Summit County Public Health and Job & Family Services..

To find out more about Downtown Akron Partnership's initiatives to build and promote a vibrant, valuable downtown, visit downtownakron.com. Follow DAP on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn to keep up with the latest developments in downtown Akron.

About Downtown Akron Partnership

The mission of Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) is to promote and build a vibrant and valuable downtown. DAP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing people, activity, business and a thriving civic life to the heart of Akron. Through strategic marketing, clean and safe programs and management of downtown's resources, DAP works to promote the district as a gathering place in the center of our community.

DAP's members include property owners, business leaders and government officials who want to improve the image of downtown as a safe, convenient location for businesses, working professionals and families. DAP is governed by a board of trustees as diverse as the interests of our city. DAP is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Akron Community Foundation and GAR Foundation.