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St. Pete & Tarpon Springs launch grants to give small businesses a boost during COVID-19

Posted at 5:32 PM, Apr 09, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Helping our small businesses keep their doors open! Thursday, both St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs launched the applications for new grant programs to help mom and pop restaurants, shops, salons and service businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

Unlike SBA loans, the money does not need to be paid back to city leaders. It is aimed at keeping small businesses open and employees working as communities struggle with coronavirus cases.

Demetrios Salivaris’ family owns two restaurants in the Sponge Docks area of Tarpon Springs: Mykonos and Dimitri’s On The Water. Mykonos is still filling to go orders, but Salivaris says business is down about 80%.

“This has really put a dent in every person’s pocket in this town,” he said with emotion.


Salivaris says in 25 years, he’s never seen Tarpon Springs so empty.

“It’s rough. It’s really rough. It’s hard for me to keep a smile on my face but I have to. If my staff sees me down then who do they have to look up to?”

Less than a mile away, Casey Smith is getting ready to ship out cans of chalk paint. She took over the shop, One Amazing Find, in December.

“So we are very new. We were looking forward to our first busy season before this all started,” she said.

Smith and Salivaris are now hoping to get extra help from city leaders. In Tarpon Springs, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can now apply for a $1,000 payment.

“I can’t stress how much we appreciate the city doing something,” Smith added.

St. Petersburg is rolling out a similar program. Theirs is called the “fighting chance” fund and will help businesses with fewer than 25 employees get up to $5,000. In St. Petersburg, individuals laid off from small businesses can also apply individually for $500.

“I don’t have any doubt that we’re all going to be okay, it’s just wondering when will we get there and how hard is it going to be until we get there?” Smith elaborated.

“I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I really do,” Salivaris added.

Both cities are also stressing the importance of shopping and dining local once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us in Tampa Bay.

“The small shops are what makes our communities like Tarpon Springs special,” Salivaris said. “You could come here 20 years ago and come today and there hasn’t been a change. It’s still the same town. That’s the charm. You can leave and come back and you haven’t missed a thing.”

Connor Donovan, the Tarpon Springs city commissioner who came up with the program says the city is also willing to look into expanding the $100,000 program.

“We want to help as many businesses as we possibly can,” he said.

Karen Lemmons, the Economic Development Manager in Tarpon Springs says the city is planning to launch a shop local campaign after COVID-19 cases disappear.

“We’re going to plan a big celebration to make sure it happens,” she said with a smile.

Both St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs say around 100 businesses applied for the grant within the first day of the applications being posted online.