NH bill would help new businesses hit by coronavirus

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Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 12:11 PM EST
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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New businesses that opened just in time to be slammed by the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible for more help under a bill before a Senate committee Tuesday.

The state distributed more than $400 million in federal funding through its Main Street Relief Fund for small businesses, but only those that were established before May 26, 2019, were eligible.

“This cut out a large segment of new small businesses which fill new needs in our communities and create the most new jobs at a time when they were really struggling,” said Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth. Her bill would remove the cutoff date for future funding.

“The newer the business, the more critical supporting it is,” she told the Senate Commerce Committee.

Lizabeth Tompkins had worked at the Puttin’ On the Glitz boutique in Portsmouth for several years before becoming the owner in September 2019. While she was able to get a loan to help recover from being shut down for three months during the pandemic, she wasn’t eligible for the grant funding.

“I don’t like asking for help. That’s not how I got here, but this is my only source of income,” she said.

Kimberly Clark, owner of Clark’s American Bistro and Ciao Trattoria and Wine Bar in Durham also was ineligible, even though her plans to take over an existing restaurant and open a new one both were in the works well before 2019. The wine bar’s original opening date of February was pushed back to June because of the pandemic.

“We know that we will survive, one way or the other, but the Main Street funding would allow us the breathing room we need to get through the rest of this pandemic,” she said.

But Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, said he’s wary of investing taxpayer money in risky ventures. New restaurants, for example, already face an 80% failure rate, he said.

“They’re already struggling, and we don’t even know who’s going to go out to eat,” he said. “Are we sending taxpayer money because of our heartstrings and not because we’re looking at data?”

But Valerie Rochon, president of the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, said she expects a “tsunami” of tourists this summer.

“People are looking not to go to big cities, they’re not going to New York City, they’re not even going to Boston. They’re looking to get out to the country,” she said. “New Hampshire is positioned perfectly to welcome these folks.”

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