Having been in business since 1982, Josie Mosqueda’s Muskegon shop, Sew What, has known its fair share of ups and downs. But, when Covid-19 hit and businesses across Michigan had to shut down for months as part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the challenges facing Sew What were something Mosqueda could have never imagined—all of a sudden, her entire revenue stream during what is typically her busiest time of the year vanished.
In addition to having to close Sew What from March through the end of May, the major events that she and her team annually provide tailoring, alterations and more for were cancelled. It has been, to put it lightly, a difficult time.
“We work all year, but we have certain seasons that are really big; spring and early summer was always our money-making time,” Mosqueda said. “We’re usually doing wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, proms—we didn’t have any of that.”
In these past few weeks, however, things have been looking up: Sew What has been able to reopen, community members are turning to them with sewing jobs, and, on Friday, June 19, they were one of the Muskegon businesses to receive a $1,000 Covid-19 recovery grant from Park Place Provisionary.
“I had applied for an [economic injury disaster loan] through the Small Business Administration, but they ran out of funds before they processed my application; when they got more funds and reinstated it, they only opened that up to agricultural businesses,” said Mosqueda, who has run Sew What since her husband, Carlos Mosqueda, who started the business, passed away 18 years ago. “A couple days ago, they opened it up again to anybody, so I was able to apply, but this grant from Park Place is the first help that we’ve had, other than help from family.”
To commemorate its one-year anniversary, Park Place Provisionary, a medicinal and recreational marijuana shop located at 1922 Park St., awarded a total of $10,000 to 11 businesses in the city of Muskegon in an effort to help owners and employees struggling in the wake of Covid-19. On Friday, June 19, Park Place Provisionary owner Greg Maki presented the $1,000 checks to the businesses, which included: 51 Tattoo, Art Cats Gallery, BananaDog Tea, The Crue, Sew What, Third Coast Vinyl, The Only Cannoli, Kuntry Cookin’, Tiny Toes Daycare, and Fatty Lumpkins Sandwich Shack/The Depot Downtown Contemporary Inn (the owner is splitting the $1,000 award between the two businesses).
Maki, who was able to keep Park Place Provisionary open during Whitmer’s stay-at-home order because it was deemed an essential business, launched the grant program after visiting restaurants and other local venues during the shutdown and seeing their struggles to remain afloat in an economy in which more than 2.2 million Michiganders—and 44 million Americans—have applied for unemployment benefits since March 15. In Muskegon County, the unemployment rate has jumped from 3.8 percent in early March to the current 29.3 percent.
“I’ve put in everything I’ve acquired in business in the last 40 years to open this store, and if the government made us shut down for three months I don’t know where we’d be; I don’t know if we would’ve had to close [permanently],” Maki said Friday, almost exactly one year after Park Place became the first marijuana shop to open in Muskegon County. “We were blessed that we could remain open, and we wanted to be able to help small businesses in Muskegon.”
To offer this help, Park Place formed a committee of community leaders to review a total of 63 applications from businesses hoping to receive the $1,000 grants. The committee members included: Greg Borgman, a job developer at Goodwill; Allison Dile, the business incubator manager at Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub; David Harris, an inventory supervisor at Park Place Provisionary; Jose A. Infante, of Infante Consulting; Muskegon City Commissioner Ken Johnson; LaShelle Mikesell, the digital media and marketing coordinator at Visit Muskegon; Tracy Powers, vice president at Agri-Med—Park Place’s parent company; and Asaline Scott, a community activist.
Committee members emphasized they would have loved to support all of the applicants, but said they aimed to provide the grants to businesses for whom the $1,000 would “keep them above water,” Scott explained. The members also focused on supporting business owners of color during a crisis that has hit Black and Latinx business owners especially hard and has further shed light on an economic system that marginalizes and excludes business owners of color. [A recent national survey, for example, included interviews with 500 Black and Latinx business owners and found that just 12 percent of the owners received the funding they requested from the Small Business Administration. Nearly half of the owners said they expect they will have to permanently close in the next six months.]
“Women of color, women in general, and very small businesses don’t have a lot of capital,” Scott said. “You probably don’t have three months of savings set aside, and, if you’re a small business owner, you probably don’t have a large line of credit you can tap into and you may not qualify for one. Think about your hair dressers, your restaurants—they’ve had to shut down, but you still have overhead. You still have your rent, your utilities, your taxes, your insurance, and your other business expenses. If you don’t have savings and you’re not bringing in revenue, how are you going to make it?”
“That’s why I’m so concerned for the really small businesses; they may not be able to reopen,” Scott continued.
Of the Muskegon businesses that landed the $1,000 grants from Park Place and had also requested a financial relief loan from the Small Business Administration, none received aid from the federal government. Some of the owners did not apply for support from the federal government because they could not afford to take on another loan, while other owners were not eligible to apply for the loans for various reasons, including having too few employees. And while all of the businesses are determined to make it through the pandemic—and noted their spirits have been buoyed not only by the Park Place grants but by the community’s support as well—life remains deeply difficult and, often, downright scary.
“We lost lots of business during Covid, particularly with our catering,” said Destinee Sargent, the owner of Kuntry Cookin’, which operates out of Racquets in downtown Muskegon. “We’ve lost over $17,000 at this point, so this [Park Place grant] really helps us be able to alleviate some of the stress for me and my husband.”
The $1,000 “helps us to give our employees more hours, which is awesome, and it helps us to purchase more product,” Sargent said.
Of course, the $1,000 isn’t a cure-all, and Sargent said she’d love to see further grant opportunities for small businesses in Muskegon. What if, Sargent asked, there could be the creation of an organization akin to the Muskegon Angels, which invests between $250,000 and $1 million in early stage companies, that could specifically support businesses struggling because of the pandemic?
“So many of us with small businesses don’t come from wealthy families and have nowhere else to turn [for financial support],” Sargent said. “Everything available right now is loans, and, when you’re already struggling, it’s senseless to take out a loan when you don’t know if you’re going to make it for the next six months.”
Louise Hopson, who owns Art Cats Gallery in Muskegon’s Lakeside neighborhood, also wasn’t able to access Small Business Administration funding, giving further weight to the importance of the $1,000 grant. For Hopson, the Park Place funding will help to support her website operations, which she’s significantly expanded since the pandemic began.
“Everyone’s had to take a second look at their business and change it so it’s more available to people who can’t come in the door,” Hopson said. “I changed my website from an informational site to a sale site; that’s a big change.”
Bethany Bauer, the co-owner of The Only Cannoli, which recently moved from Lakeside to Third Street in Midtown Muskegon, said “it’s a huge relief” to receive the $1,000 grant.
“It’s really helpful because it has been a really hard time for us, with the construction in Lakeside and then, when the pandemic hit, we had to essentially hold everything we were doing because we had equipment that was stuck in Detroit,” Bauer said.
These days, life is, slowly, returning to a new normal. That new normal is a far cry from life as it was several months ago, but it does mean that, for these owners, their businesses are, once again, open to their community. And it is the community coming through their doors, ordering online, sharing social media posts, and just giving a friendly wave that, the owners said, is getting them through this time.
“Business has been good since we opened back up,” Mosqueda said. “The community’s been coming in and bringing us jobs, keeping us busy. If that continues and there are no more shutdowns and sickness, if none of that happens then we should be able to make it through. We’re used to hard times and slow times; we’ll make it.”