FINANCIAL DISTRICT — As Lower Manhattan continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, the Downtown Alliance launched a program Monday that will provide cash grants to qualifying small businesses south of Chambers Street that were affected by the storm.
The Back to Business grant program is geared to help the Downtown small business community get back on its feet after suffering hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage during the hurricane.
The Downtown Alliance contributed the first $1 million to the fund and is asking for more donations.
"We are on the eve of the holiday season and we need to spread the word that Lower Manhattan’s retailers, restaurateurs and storefront service providers are open," said Downtown Alliance President Elizabeth Berger, who announced the grant program Monday morning on the cobblestones of Stone Street.
Grants of up to $20,000 will be doled out on a first-come, first-served basis, Berger said.
To qualify, businesses must be south of Chambers Street within Flood Zone A, have fewer than 50 employees and bring in less than $5 million in revenue each year. The businesses must also have been operating for at least a year or have a five-year lease, and they must be open already or scheduled to reopen by April.
So far, much of the other aid offered to businesses recovering from Sandy has been in the form of loans that need to be paid back, not grants, officials said.
"Our goal is the get the money out there quickly," Berger said.
Lower Manhattan restaurants and retailers have been struggling since Sandy struck three weeks ago, flooding buildings and displacing many area residents and office workers who make up the bulk of the neighborhood's customer base.
Even businesses that have reopened since the storm are feeling the hit, as many blocks remain eerily devoid of their typical throngs of shoppers and tourists, store owners noted.
"Those people aren't around. That's what keeps me up at night," Marco Pasanella, owner of the South Street Seaport wine shop Pasanella and Son Vinters, told DNAinfo.com New York last week. "How do you have a business if you no longer have the customers?"
The Downtown Alliance is hoping to draw more shoppers to the area over the next several month, by investing an extra $325,000 in a series of seasonal marketing and promotional campaigns, which include advertisements, holiday lights and the 2013 Lower Manhattan Shopping and Dining Guide.
Community Board 1 Chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes said the best way to help the recovery process is to support local businesses — by being a customer.
"People asked, what am I going to do this Thanksgiving?" she said. "Spend time with the family and shop and eat out in Lower Manhattan."