GULFPORT, Fla. — For Barbara Banno and Kelly Wright — both business owners — the COVID-19 pandemic proved long, trying, and financially straining.
Banno owns Stella’s, a lime green restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch along the vibrant South Beach Boulevard in Gulfport. A secondary Stella's storefront sells sundries to locals and tourists alike.
Wright owns the neighboring North End Tap House, which serves deli favorites and local brews.
“I mean, I opened this restaurant in January of last year,” said Wright with a chuckle. “So that was seven weeks before we had to close down.”
Businesses have since fully reopened and the recovery in Gulfport is in full swing, and soon, the city will do its part to help with a program it’s dubbed Gulfport Rebound.
“Here’s a program that the city’s saying, ‘Hey! We got you. We got your back,’” explained Banno, who’s also part of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber, along with Wright.
Starting around Dec. 10, each person who lives in the City of Gulfport will receive two $25 gift certificates from the city by mail — totaling $50 for each household.
They can spend the gift certificates at any participating businesses in town until the certificates expire on Jan. 10, 2022.
Businesses that have collected gift certificates as a form of payment can redeem them for a cashable check from the City of Gulfport at any point between Dec. 10 through Feb. 1.
A few conditions do apply. To use the gift certificates, city residents must sign the back of the voucher in agreement that they either faced financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 or spent a minimum of $50 on COVID-19 related supplies. Households that have utility liens on their properties will automatically have the $50 certificates applied to their outstanding utility bills.
For businesses to participate, they must be physically located in the City of Gulfport, must be independently operated, must be a brick and mortar location, must have a current City of Gulfport business tax license, must have a face to face business, must have been in operation at any point between Feb. 2020 and Feb. 2021, and must have faced a negative impact due to COVID-19.
In order to participate, businesses also must complete the online application at this link. The deadline, originally set for Nov. 24, has been extended to Nov. 29.
Ultimately, Mayor Sam Henderson says many businesses and residents are eligible to participate.
“It does seem too good to be true, but it’s a way that we thought we could directly benefit people immediately at a time when most people need money,” he said.
Henderson and the city are paying for the $410,000 program with a portion of the stimulus funding the City of Gulfport received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
To Banno and Wright, it’s money well spent.
“This is a great opportunity for us to market ourselves to get people through our doors that maybe wouldn’t have come in initially,” said Wright.
So far, only about 50 of the city’s roughly 220 businesses have applied to participate. Wright and Banno hope other eligible businesses will apply by the Nov. 29 deadline.