Pandemic issues continue to plague small businesses, but grants ease pressure

There’s no place like Bay County to do business. That’s the message Bay County business owners sent to Bay County Commissioners and Bay Future Inc. officials this week.

Megan Manning, who manages investor relations for Future of the Bayinvited Bay County Commissioners to visit area businesses that were part of the Bay County Small Business Grant Program. The Small Business program distributes $1 million in grants to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money comes from American Rescue Plan Act funding allocated to bay county. Bay Future manages grants. Read more about the program in this May 19 article on Route Bay City.

So far, Bay Future has distributed about $800,000 in subsidies for rent or mortgages, payroll and utilities. Another batch of checks is being processed.

This week, Bay Future took Bay County Executive James A. Barcia, along with County Commissioners Kaysey Radtke, Vaughn Begick and Marie Frost, to tour some of the 90 establishments that received money as part of the grant program.

Money had a big impact.

Barneys changed ownership in 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the owner still sees the influence of the pandemic in his daily activities. (Photo courtesy of Barneys BakeHouse Bakery)Jarrid Weighman, owner of Barney’s BakeHome Bakery at 421 S. VanBuren St. in Bay City’s South End, says the injection of money for rent, utilities and salaries has helped offset the rising cost of ingredients. For example, before COVID-19, he paid around $46 for a case of lard. Today, this case costs around $218.

During the pandemic and the resulting labor shortage, Weighman increased the wages it pays and began offering benefits, such as occasional lunches or breakfasts, to its staff. He thinks if he takes care of them, they’ll take care of his business.

Personnel problems and rising raw material prices are not the only problems facing companies. Supply chain shortages and distribution uncertainties are forcing companies to get creative.

For example, Weighman says he recently ordered around $5,000 worth of raw ingredients to create sweet and savory treats. Only about $300 of this order showed up.

“That’s a significant amount of ingredients that don’t show up,” Weighman says.

He refuses to let these kinds of problems stop him. When his suppliers have products but can’t find drivers, he personally drives to Detroit to pick up what he needs.

When he couldn’t get as much flour as he needed for full-sized cakes, he started making what he calls “bombs.” These are single-serving cakes filled with ganache and covered with frosting.

When sales to individual customers dwindled, Weighman began marketing his buns and bread to local restaurants, including Old Town Hall and food trucks parked outside Drift.

Through it all, he says he appreciates that the community is behind him.

“The outreach has been amazing,” says Weighman. “Bay City has just been amazing.”

Neighbors tell her they like to sit on their porches and enjoy the aroma of fresh bread and donuts. Customers buy ready-to-bake, homemade quiches as fast as he can produce them.

During the tour, Barcia thanked Weighman for keeping the business going. Barney’s Bakery operated from the building for 90 years, ending in 2020. It was, however, only closed four months before Weighman reopened it.

“We’re thrilled you’re continuing the legacy,” Barcia says.

The owner of the Park Avenue Party Store tries to stock items that people in the neighborhood need. For some neighborhood seniors, the store is their best option. (Photo courtesy of Park Avenue Party Store)At Park Avenue Party Shop, located at 1501 Park Ave. near Bay City’s Carroll Park, owner Leann Przeslak says her business has struggled during the pandemic. Przeslak and her sister, Kathy Kimmel, who runs the store, have been forced to cut hours and raise prices.

On hot summer days, ice cream is a big seller at the Park Avenue Party Store. (Photo courtesy of Park Avenue Party Store)But the grant money has helped them keep the doors open and retain their employees.

“You have no idea what this money means to me,” she says.

The company fills a need in the neighborhood. Przeslak is about an elderly woman who goes to the Park Avenue Party Store for what she needs between grocery deliveries. Families rush for last minute needs while their children play in the park.

Przeslak has tried to keep its prices as low as possible for its customers, but it’s not easy when its suppliers charge more for everything. The grant eased the pressure, giving her the chance to catch up a bit.

Trevor M. Keyes, president and CEO of Bay Future, says these stories illustrate why the grants exist. The number of COVID cases may have declined, but businesses are still dealing with the repercussions.

For many, sales have plummeted over the past two years and vendors have charged additional fees, which have reduced the profit margin. At the same time, rent, mortgage payments, utilities and salaries all remained the same. Keyes says the grants help businesses close the gap so they can continue to employ people and serve the community.

Drift was one of approximately 90 businesses in Bay County to benefit from a small business grant program. (Photo courtesy of Drift)The visit of Tuesday August 2 is also included Drift Shoreside Biergarten1019 N. Water St. in downtown Bay City.

On Wednesday August 3 in the morning, the tour resumed at Advanced Comprehensive Wound Care912 S. Euclid Avenue, emcore5154 Alliance Drive in Monitor Township, and O’s Pub and Grill, 123 E. Midland St. in Auburn. Bay County Commissioner Vaughn Begick visited these businesses.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 3, Third District Commissioner Marie Fox joined the tour Bittersweet Quilt Shop at 624 W. Fifth St. in Pinconning; Wilson Cheese Factory at 221 N. Mable St. in Pinconning; and the Crump pump at 1038 W. Anderson Road in Linwood.