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Carroll County small businesses, from a farm to a welding shop, use coronavirus grants to adapt and survive

When Hampstead farmer Elisa Lane heard the news about the cancellation of the Baltimore Farmers’ Market, she was crushed.

“It was devastating because that one farmers’ market makes up maybe 40% of our total revenue,” said Lane, owner of Two Boots Farm.

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The market, which was supposed to start in early April, didn’t start until June 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Two Boots Farm — previously selling flowers almost exclusively — to expand. Now, the farm also sells vegetables, has a new online store and has purchased a new truck to attend a pop-up farmers’ market.

And in August the farm was rewarded for its efforts with a $5,000 grant from Carroll County.

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The Carroll Rebound grants program, which is meant to help businesses and nonprofits cover costs associated with the pandemic, has given out about $1.6 million so far, and has a total of $4 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars to give away, according to the county Department of Economic Development.

More than 370 Carroll businesses have applied, plus 27 nonprofits and 28 farms, according to Denise Beaver, deputy director of the department. She said Tuesday 85% of businesses have received grants, as have 74% of farms and 84% of nonprofits.

“Our goal is not to have any money left over,” said Jack Lyburn, Carroll County’s director of economic development. The county has invested in postcards and even a billboard to get the word out.

Through Carroll Rebound, sole proprietors’ businesses with fewer than two full-time equivalent employees can receive up to $2,500, businesses with two to 10 full-time employees can get up to $5,000, and businesses with 11 to 50 full-time employees can get up to $8,000.

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The businesses can’t be franchises, Lyburn said, nor can they be religious organizations. They also need to show that they’ve incurred costs due to the pandemic of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Recipients can use the grant for technology upgrades, marketing, employee training, commercial cleaning, professional services, equipment or vehicle expenses, and health-related expenses like purchasing personal protective equipment.

At Xtreme Fabrication, a welding and fabrication shop in New Windsor, the grant was a big help, owner Will Fries said.

It allowed the shop to replace a broken 13-year-old welding machine with a top-of-the-line model, he said. And when a local walked into the shop a few days later looking for work, Fries was happy to bring him on board. With the new machine, Fries was eager to accept extra jobs from customers, and so he needed another pair of hands.

Owner Will Fries, right, and Erik Simms, a welder fabricator, at Xtreme Fabrication in New Windsor are employing the company's new Miller MIG welder to assemble an aluminum truck body for Wayside Landscaping, a local business, Thursday, August 27, 2020. The company used a $5,000 Carroll Rebound grant to to purchase the new welding machine and hired Simms who had been laid off due to job reductions at his previous employer.
Owner Will Fries, right, and Erik Simms, a welder fabricator, at Xtreme Fabrication in New Windsor are employing the company's new Miller MIG welder to assemble an aluminum truck body for Wayside Landscaping, a local business, Thursday, August 27, 2020. The company used a $5,000 Carroll Rebound grant to to purchase the new welding machine and hired Simms who had been laid off due to job reductions at his previous employer. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

For a while, though, there were few jobs to be found, especially with some automotive plants closed. The business frequently upfits trucks, Fries said. Some job sites were closed, too, he said, and some clients pulled their jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

“When you’re trying to figure out how to make payroll every week so everybody gets a paycheck, it’s very, very stressful,” Fries said.

When the pandemic hit the U.S., Billy Schroeder, owner of Giulianova Groceria & Deli in Westminster, feared for his cooking class. Schroeder said he’d been holding the class for about 15 years, and it was a huge revenue booster, but hasn’t been able to do so lately.

Thanks to his $5,000 rebound grant, he’s planning to take the class online with the help of video professionals, and cook everything from Italian breakfast lasagna (a combination of French toast, Italian sausage, scrambled eggs and rosemary hash browns) to Mexican pulled pork — with a live audience.

“We were leaning on just somebody holding the phone and us doing it live and doing a Facebook sort of gig, but this has enabled us to do it the way I really wanted it to be done,” Schroeder said. “We might even incorporate some music, it might be a night out. I’m also thinking about having a guest chef night.”

Thanks to the boost from grant money, Schroeder also purchased a kegerator, so he could sell draft root beer in the store. He said he’s planning a special involving root beer for Ravens games this fall.

“The sky is the limit,” he said.

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