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Clearwater city leaders move forward with $4 million grant program to help local businesses

Posted at 6:36 PM, Apr 26, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Clearwater city leaders are working to pass a $4 million grant program to help local businesses stay afloat.

"Thank them," said Natalie Rohde.

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Rohde is a waitress at Papa's New York Diner in Clearwater. She's used to it being packed with staff and customers.

"There's usually a line out the door," she said.

Things changed about a month ago, because of COVID-19 and social distancing.

All restaurant dining rooms closed, and can only do takeout or delivery.

"It's strange," she said. "There's usually three waitresses per shift, two cooks and a dishwasher. Now it's just me and the cook."

Business owners are doing everything they can to stay open and keep their employees, but it's not easy.

"I'm literally funneling money out of my personal pocket just to keep the doors open," said Jimmy Stoupas.

Stoupas owns Ted's Luncheonette in Largo, where city leaders approved a grant program for 358 small businesses. Each eligible business will receive $1,000 from the city.

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"A thousand dollars is better than nothing," said Stoupas.

Several other Pinellas County cities have approved similar programs.

Now, Clearwater leaders are close to signing off on a $4 million grant program for as many as 700 small businesses in the city.

"I'm surprised, but that's wonderful," said Rohde.

The program is for Clearwater businesses with 25 or fewer employees. Owners will have to show proof of COVID-19 income loss, provide all business tax receipts and your business has to be completely independent.

The city is now trying to determine where the money for the grant program will come from.

City council plans to have their final vote on May 7.