Main Street Walhalla program coordinator Libby Imbody, left, meets with Brian Vang, owner of Poke at Little Japan, about opportunities for his business.
By Norm Cannada
WALHALLA — When she started as the city’s first Main Street Walhalla program coordinator in mid-February, Libby Imbody was working to develop relationships with businesses and looking at ways to bring more businesses downtown.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed much of that and she has found herself immersed in helping businesses with grant and loan programs to help them work through the crisis.
Imbody walked through the downtown area Wednesday talking with business owners about a new grant program approved by city council Tuesday night providing $300 in emergency assistance to help with a variety of needs. She has also been helping many businesses navigate through the application process for federal programs since the coronavirus began impacting businesses.
Main Street Walhalla is part of the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s Main Street program, which she said gives her training and other information to help those businesses. The state Main Street program has 23 communities involved, according to Imbody.
“I feel like we’re in a good place in Walhalla because we are part of the Main Street program,” she said. “Someone in the role that I’m in can help relieve a little bit of pressure for the merchants by weeding through this information — and it changes hourly.”
Imbody is overseeing the process for the grant program council approved, providing the applications online at mainstreetwalhalla.com. Council allocated $5,000 through the Downtown Development Corporation, but is working to find more money in the budget to add to the pot.
“Emergency assistance has been discussed with the Main Street programs,” she said of the local grant. “I think we might be the first one to get it done.”
She has also been involved in training through the state organization designed to help businesses with two federal programs available through the Small Business Administration. One is the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL) program, where businesses can get up to $10,000 soon after the application is processed and later receive a loan offer to help the business more long term.
“I’m helping Walhalla merchants weed their way through that information and streamlining it for them and getting updates for them,” Imbody said. “That program has been completely revamped. I helped a business do it. It took us about 15 minutes. When you apply, there is a box you can check to be considered for up to $10,000 forgivable grant. That’s one of the opportunities. Three days from processing, you can get up to that $10,000 right away. It is dependent on (number of) employees and your gross revenue.”
She is also trying to help businesses work through the application process for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is part of more than $2 trillion CARES Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump. She said that program is “designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll” and can be forgivable.
That program requires an SBA lender, and she said Wednesday she and business owners were still trying to find local lenders who are qualified to process those loans.
She continues to help businesses with updates about the programs that can help.
“We’ve probably got 40 (businesses) in the downtown area, and the Main Street program works with downtown,” she said. “I’ve heard from probably six that they have applied for that EIDL loan. I’ve heard from several who have tried to apply for the PPP loan, but no one has found anybody that can process it yet.
“I think the merchants are doing what they can,” Imbody added. “They want to protect their employees. That’s probably the first question the people that do have employees have is they want to know what kind of resources we can connect them with. The unemployment insurance has all changed, too. The benefits have greatly improved, so we’re trying to get them in touch with that.”
Imbody has also helped downtown businesses with other barricades and signs to allow for curbside pickup and said many are taking advantage of those opportunities.
Imbody was originally hired for 25 hours a week with the hope of making the position full-time in the future, but has worked about 40 hours in each of the past two weeks. Her title also includes director of special events and downtown development.
City administrator Brent Taylor said the number of hours “will balance out over time,” but city officials are going to evaluate the position to “possibly being full-time next fiscal year.”
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