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'If this one business fails, that's it,' Norfolk restaurant owner desperate for COVID aid as Congress approves relief package

Luke Brigham, owner of the Nouvelle restaurant along Colley Ave. in Norfolk said he's hoping to get a grant from the American Rescue Plan.

NORFOLK, Va. — On Wednesday afternoon, Congress approved the landmark $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

House Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan with the goal of getting it on President Joe Biden's desk by Friday.

While it means Americans will have more money in their pockets, it goes beyond distributing stimulus checks. Restaurants across the nation are big beneficiaries of the relief package as well.

The American Rescue Plan will direct $28.6 billion in federal grants for restaurants that experienced revenue losses in 2020 due to the pandemic. The bill also adds money to the Paycheck Protection Program and helps small businesses through stimulus payments and unemployment benefits.

Under the bill, qualifying restaurants will recover some of their losses. The bill aims to give restaurants grants of up to $10 million per company and $5 million for location. However, not all restaurants are eligible. In order to qualify for the grants, companies cannot own more than 20 locations and can’t be publicly traded.

Additionally, the bill sets aside $5 billion for the smallest restaurants with an annual revenue below $500,000.

Luke Brigham, who along with his wife owns the Nouvelle restaurant along Colley Avenue in Norfolk, said he’s hoping for a grant. Currently, his restaurant is only open for dinner. Brigham decided to close during the lunch hours as a cost-saving measure.

“It’s been arduous,” said Brigham. “It’s not like we had a bad month where we saw over 70 percent of our revenue drop off; it’s been a solid year now.”

Jim Carroll, the Executive Director of the Small Business Development Center in Hampton Roads, said businesses are in desperate need of help right now, but applying for grants and distributing the money is a process.

“It is going to take time, it’s required because they wanna make sure there’s no fraud,” said Carroll. “But when you’re a small business owner and you’ve got debtors knocking at your door, and you’re not seeing the money come in, and you’re not drawing a paycheck, the stressors are phenomenal.”

Carroll said that’s what many restaurant and small business owners across Hampton Roads have told him they're up against. It’s the kind of stress Brigham and his wife were under last summer. They couldn’t keep up with the payments to rent the restaurant’s 2,000 square ft. space.

Brigham said they came close to closing permanently three different times, then the City of Norfolk helped them with a grant. It was enough to catch up on the restaurant's late mortgage payments. Brigham still needs another $4,000 to replace the restaurant's broken air conditioning unit.

Even then, time has passed and they're still operating under razor-thin margins. Brigham took on a second job in maintenance to support his family.

He’s eager to see more relief soon.

“If this one business fails, we’re out. That’s it,” he said.

If you think your business qualifies for a grant, the Small Business Development Center will have resources to help you apply. You can also keep an eye on your area's Chamber of Commerce website.

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