By Bradley Zint, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach business owners and nonprofit leaders are receiving federal grant money this month under a localized COVID-19 pandemic relief program organized by county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.
44 businesses and 11 nonprofits based in Laguna each received grants up to $10,000, according to data from Bartlett’s office.
Bartlett, who represents the 5th District — a large swath of south Orange County that includes Laguna Beach, Aliso Viejo, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel — awarded approximately $8.7 million to 873 5th District organizations in the first funding round. In an upcoming funding process, officials anticipate awarding another 582 grants.
The funds originated from the CARES Act, the expansive federal economic assistance package approved in March. Each Orange County supervisor received $15 million to distribute.
Eligible organizations needed to have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and employ no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees, among other requirements.
Organizers sought to distribute the money fairly and equitably, said James Dinwiddie, Bartlett’s deputy chief of staff.
They allocated the money among the 5th’s cities and unincorporated areas, based on population. In areas that had more applications than funds available, a randomized selection process was utilized, said Pauline Colvin, Bartlett’s communications advisor.
“A lot of these businesses need this money to keep them going in this re-opening process,” Dinwiddie said.
Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, executive director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, concurred.
“Thankfully, the requirements were loosely written,” she said. “A lot of people are using them to keep their doors open and keep their lights on.”
Hornbuckle-Arnold added that Laguna may soon feel the economic effects of having fewer summer events — the Pageant of the Masters and its Festival of Arts were cancelled — that were drawing into town an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people daily.
“There’s going to be a decrease in sales and consumerism,” she noted.
Still, she said, there have been some bright spots. Hotel occupancy rates are high. On Forest Avenue, now closed off to cars, pedestrian traffic has been strong since restaurants added more outdoor seating.
Some galleries, though, aren’t back up to 100%, Hornbuckle-Arnold said.
Councilman Peter Blake, a downtown gallery owner for 27 years, was one of Laguna’s grant recipients. He said he plans to use his funds to pay salaries and obtain new inventory.
Blake said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a “devastating effect” on his business. In addition to his gallery being closed the last four months — he had planned to re-open this week but couldn’t under new mandates — Blake has been unable to sell at art fairs.
“It’s a real bummer to see our artists not being able to sell their works and not being able to show their works,” Blake said. “It’s definitely not an easy situation, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Still, he added, “Overall, it could be a lot worse. There is a surge in getting your house to be a nicer place to live. There are people still purchasing here and there. That’s taken the edge off.”
Galleries not exhibiting or selling has a compounded effect, Blake said, because the closures also mean various ancillary people are out of work: installers, writers and other independent contractors.
Michael McFadden, owner of Rock Martin Custom Jewelry, which was founded in 1968, also received a grant.
McFadden said he will use it toward basic expenses, such as rent.
Walk-in business has been slower compared to normal summers, he noted, but he nevertheless had a valuable moment Wednesday on Instagram: An item sold within five minutes of its posting.
McFadden said he has enjoyed community support, including one woman who plopped down her credit card to buy $2,000 in gift cards because she wanted to help the business any way she could.
“We have some good and loyal customers after 52 years here,” McFadden said.
Even under the circumstances, Blake commented that Laguna’s downtown “is as vibrant and lively as I’ve ever known it.”
Locals are visiting, making it a true town square, he said.
“It’s just kind of nice to go to our downtown,” Blake added, “to see some locals and friends we haven’t seen in a long time. They’ll have a cup of coffee and enjoy each other’s company.”
Here’s a full list of Laguna Beach-based grant recipients from Bartlett’s Office:
GAP Managers, Inc.
Glamour Denour Inc. DBA The British Hair Co.
Sweetwater Original, LLC
Laguna Beach Language Speech Clinic
Laguna Candles LLC
Thomas David Salon
NakedDog Bistro Inc.
Sei Bella Skin Care
Laguna MBZ Service, LLC
Art Glass By Marcus Thesing Inc.
Serenity Skin Care
Unique Boutique of Laguna Beach
Rana Nader Yoga Jewelry
Mimis Tailoring and Design
The English Garden
SoCal Backflow Inspector
Laguna Eye Optometry PC
Freight Wire West Coast
Rich Low Hair
Greg Verbenec Hairstylist Salon V
St. Clair Bulding LLC
Rock Martin Custom Jewelry
Ostrick Productions, Inc.
Studio Tanaka Inc.
The Mermaid Store
Code Green Fitness
906 Glenneyre Street
OC Beck, Inc
Langdon DuBois Fitness
Taejoocleaners, Inc. DBA Snyder’s Cleaners
Tony Fisch Consulting
Peter Blake Gallery
Natalie B. Beauty
LOCA. Inc. (Laguna Outreach for Community Arts)
Laguna Art Museum
Laguna Beach Live!
Sawdust Festival Corporation
Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach
Laguna Plein Air Painters Association
Laguna Beach Hospitality Association, Inc. DBA Visit Laguna
Laguna Beach Seniors, Inc.
Laguna Dance Festival
Neighborhood Congregational Church Laguna Beach