CARTHAGE, Ill. — When the schools and community events across the country supplying his business shut down, John McCarty saw more than half of the orders at his Outlaw Tees canceled for the year.
Business revenue slowed to a trickle, but "our monthly bills are the same no matter whether we're open or not," McCarty said. "We're back to work, with enough work to keep us busy a few weeks, but we had five months of work lined up on the books and it's down to three weeks."
A new partnership in Hancock County is clearing the way to seek funding/grant money to help businesses like McCarty's that were hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fourteen businesses plan to seek nearly $300,000 through the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program with help from Hancock County Economic Development, Carthage Community Development, municipalities, the Hancock County Board and volunteers.
The program, offered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, allows for up to 60 days of operating expenses for "nonessential" businesses affected by the virus.
"It's going to keep my doors open," said Mark Hamilton, owner of the Wood Inn in Carthage, who is applying for $25,000 through the program. "I've owned my business for 22 years. It's the only business in Hancock County that I'm aware of that has had the same name and same location since 1891."
HCED Executive Director Belynda Allen said the collaborative effort hopes to save at least 100 jobs and many thousands of dollars of future tax revenue for the county.
"Saving an existing and strong business is always easier than trying to attract and build new businesses in order to develop a strong tax revenue base," Allen said. "Most of these businesses have been a part of Hancock County for years, and we love them and want to keep them."
Harrison said his business initially closed down due to the pandemic, then started to offer carryout but still fell short on revenue. "I could not afford to have an employee to run the cash register. If I didn't do it, it was not going to work," he said.
"There's just some expenses out there people don't realize have to be paid," Harrison said. "When you lose maybe 60% of what you were doing before, it hurts."
Businesses were especially hard-hit in tourism-dependent Nauvoo.
"Not to downplay it, this is a Band-Aid right now to stop the bleeding … and get them through the summer. These fall and winter months are going to be really tough on some of these businesses," said McCarty, Nauvoo's mayor and a business owner seeking $25,000 through the program. "You make your money in the summer months to get through the lean winter months. It will be a different story this year."
Most of the businesses had never sought such funding and "didn't know how some of these things work, what information was needed," McCarty said.
Allen and Carthage Community Development Director Amy Graham wanted to help but couldn't offer the program on their own because they didn't have access to resources needed to complete a 50-page application per business. So they sought to partner with the county's mayors and communities and Hancock County Board, which agreed to serve as the administrative agency for all applications and funds awarded.
"It will be a major impact for the whole county, not just the businesses. Most of this money is going to be paid out in salaries," said Tom Rodgers, a County Board member who chairs the DSBSP Committee.
With the partners all taking on a portion of the workload and liability, and help from dedicated volunteers Sherry Saint and Kathy Jacobs with Nauvoo Vacation Villas, 14 applications were finished.
"The money's always great. The jobs are wonderful, but the partnership is going to be so huge. This shows we can do this. We can work together, figure out the path we need to follow as a partnership going forward to truly grow Hancock County," Allen said.
The partnership also boosted awareness of small business throughout the county and its impact.
"I see a joint effort in the future of promoting the entire county and all these businesses," McCarty said. "It's not us and them. It's all of us. That's what it's going to take in the future, to go together and really push everyone in the county. The county needs revenue sources from everywhere. You can't say I'll support Nauvoo and that's it. Look around and see who we can support in the entire area."
A public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 12, on the proposed Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program applications for Hancock County businesses.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in the hearing will be available by calling 978-990-5000 and using the access code 652074.
Nearly $300,000 in grants through the program is sought by 14 businesses — Outlaw Tees, Nauvoo Motel, Hotel Nauvoo, Annie's Frozen Custard, Winning Looks, Fudge Factory and Nauvoo Vacation Villas, all in Nauvoo; Wood Inn, Deliver the Party, Rural Bliss and Ben Franklin (Crafty J's), all in Carthage; the Office in Basco; and Hamilton Family Café and Great Lakes Boat Company in Hamilton.
More information on the hearing and the funding program is available by calling Hancock County Board member Tom Rodgers at 217-617-1293.