Glen Judd opened Fat Papa’s Diner Village Wilson on Aug. 1. He said he was optimistic, but as COVID-19 became more and more of a threat this past fall, customers became less and less likely to sit at his counter.
For the past three months, as Judd and his wife, Michelle, have been working multiple jobs to pay the rent on the building at 291 Young St. and the salaries of his help. The legacy as a place where a high-schooler could get a part-time job serving sundaes out the back of the kitchen – converted into an ice-cream stand – was falling into doubt.
To cement that image and stay open, Judd has been looking for grants, but as of yet, no help has come.
“Nobody is responding,” he said. “And the responses we get are, ‘You’re not in Erie County.’ ”
Judd’s situation is the same as many businesses in Niagara County, said Mike Casale, commissioner of the Niagara County Center for Economic Development.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way the Federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was written,” Casale said. “A community with 500,000 or more in population would be eligible. Those monies went from the feds to the state and then it was dispersed by the state. Erie County got money, we didn’t.”
Casale said he knew that businesses, especially restaurants were hurting. While he could not bring the CARES Act benefits here, he said there is some help for businesses fearing they weren’t going to make it.
Casale made note of a loan program called the Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP) which was made possible by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency to help hotels in Niagara County.
Another positive is the return of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Casale said.
“This program ended up being a grant because it was a forgivable loan,” he said. “That’s something our smaller mom and pop restaurants can really take advantage of.”
The NCCED works closely with what Casale calls its “economic development alliance partners.”
These include the Small Business Association, the Small Business Development Center and Niagara County’s Chamber of Commerce. Any and all updates on relief for Niagara County businesses can be found on its website, niagaracountybusiness.com.
“We share each other’s information,” he said. “Another great program that came out last week to help restaurants was that Raising the Bar Restaurant Recovery Fund. You’ll find that on our website. That’s something that will help the smaller restaurants in the county and the state.”
Another log in the fire is a bill in the process of being submitted by Assemblyman Mike Norris, (R-Lockport). He is advocating for the “New York Business Emergency Relief Act of 2021” in which the governor would be authorized to move funds toward the aim of helping non-essential businesses like restaurants.
“The legislature recognizes that New York’s private businesses are the backbone of our state economy and the state must act boldly to address the negative impacts resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak and associated statewide business sector shutdown,” reads the bill.
Norris called for the governor to direct all unallocated funds toward small business relief purposes.
For Judd, it couldn’t come sooner.
“We are the only restaurant that’s open in Wilson,” he said. “I took a job at the bakery at the grocery store across the street. I work there Mondays, and then Tuesday and Thursday nights. So every bit helps. I’ve actually taken money out of my 401K just to pay the bills here.”