Summit Mayor Nora Radest is emphasizing to residents that any little bit will help in her city’s effort to provide financial relief for its many small businesses being impacted by the coronavirus lockdowns.
But it has been Radest’s experience in her two terms as mayor and more than 30 years as a resident that a little typically transforms into a lot whenever the call goes out for a helping hand.
And Radest hopes the legacy of generosity lives on as the Sustain Summit Fund is launched to establish an emergency assistance grant program for those suddenly struggling small businesses that have long been the heartbeat of the city’s vibrant downtown district.
The same thing is happening in towns like Somerville, Westfield, Morristown and Madison, which also have developed platforms to help the small businesses in their communities.
“Summit it a very generous town,” Radest said, “and people are always helping out in a number of ways.”
A few cases in point:
Actually, Radest is seeing the Sustain Summit Fund already is falling in line with that tradition of giving, as $135,045 had been raised as of Tuesday morning on the GoFundMe link established by Radest’s office in partnership with the Summit Foundation and Summit Downtown Inc.
The fund will provide grants to qualifying small businesses.
“That’s a very good number, particularly because we know the Summit Foundation is going to match the first $50,000,” Radest said on Monday, when the GoFundMe total was just over $72,000. “I know some other checks or HCH transfers that have gone directly to Summit Downtown Inc., which is not evidenced on the GoFundMe page.”
Summit has followed funding models established recently by Westfield and Madison, though Radest said the idea in her city was hatched almost as soon as it became clear that essential businesses such as restaurants would be limited to curbside pickups and deliveries and that non-essential establishments would be closed except for those offering online services.
“We had the notion weeks ago to do this,” Radest said. “It took a little time to create a form and sure we knew exactly what we were trying to to do, what organizations would be included, which ones would not. It’s businesses with under 50 employees; we tried to keep it small.”
Somerville has not yet solicited direct funding from residents, though is encouraging their support via the recently launched “Somerville at Home” website created by the Downtown Somerville Alliance, or D.S.A. This attractive and well-organized site was introduced last Friday.
“Downtowns are a critical element of New Jersey’s economic well-being,” said Natalie Pineiro, executive director of the D.S.A. “We know the economic impact of the coronavirus will be immense, and it is the responsibility of district management corporations like the D.S.A. to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep our family of small businesses on the map during these difficult times.”
This website provides hours, menus and delivery details of the eating establishments still operating in town, but also offers other experiences that reach beyond dining options.
“Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to forego the staples of downtown Somerville,” Pineiro said. “The Somerville at Home site even features videos from your favorite businesses with tips, recipes and activities that will bring us into the comfort of your home.”
Ah, but both Pineiro and Radest know one of the most endearing comforts of home has always been the knowledge that you can leave it occasionally to enjoy some shopping, dining or social time downtown.
“Before all this, we had about a one-percent vacancy rate downtown, which is pretty remarkable,” Radest said. "We’re hoping desperately that the stores can stay open and stay in business.
“The landlords have been reaching out and tenants have been talking to their landlords. And I know the banks all have been reaching out to the landlords on the other end, extending their loans and things like that,” she said. “Everyone is trying to help each other.”
That includes some of the larger businesses in town that already have provided capital to other projects throughout Summit.
“Bristol Myers Squibb is our new corporate partner in town and they’ve been very generous,” Radest said. “I expect them to donate to this, but I also know they have donated to various organizations in town.”
As generous as her people have been, Radest knows the Sustain Summit Fund is not going to provide salvation for every small business owner in town. There are more 200 spread throughout the city of 22,000 people in Union County; these dollars can only go so far.
“We’re not going to be able to raise enough funds to help everyone stay open for the long haul,” Radest said. "But hopefully it’s something where we can tide people over as sort of a lifeline until they get some of the state and federal funding.
“Also, hopefully it’s a sign of support for our merchants that they know the town believes in them and supports them.”
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