Greater Niles Chamber offering emergency relief

NILES — As Niles area businesses rally to stay open despite decreased foot traffic due to COVID-19 social distancing mandates, relief may be available.

The Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday it has launched the Greater Niles Chamber Emergency Relief Program to assist businesses affected by coronavirus and subsequent mitigation efforts.

Through the program, small business chamber members may apply for loans of up to $10,000.

“We understand that it may be a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed, but our primary mission is to support our member businesses,” said Eileen Villaneuva, membership coordinator for the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce. “It was really important to us to take the resources that we have and redirect them toward those relief efforts.”

In 2018, the Four Flags Chamber of Commerce (since renamed the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce), sold the Four Flags Plaza — which it previously owned — to General Capital, an investment group that manages multiple properties in Niles, including the Berkshire Hathaway apartments on Third Street. The sale totaled more than $2 million, which was donated to the Hunter Foundation in Niles, with the agreement that interest earned on the endowment would be reinvested in helping small businesses grow.

In the past year, $100,000 has been earned on the investment, $20,000 of which funds operational costs for the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce. The remaining $80,000 is available through the relief program to distribute to member businesses.

A press release from the chamber stated that the relief program is designed for entities directly impacted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Orders 2020-9 and 2020-20, which called for businesses deemed non-essential to close. The loans are intended to settle fixed debts, accounts payable and other bills that could have otherwise been paid had the executive orders not been issued. The chamber listed rent, mortgage and lease payments, utilities, subscriptions, IT support and licensing fees as examples of funds that could potentially be covered by the relief program.

“[The loans] are low-interest loans, with no interest for the first six months,” Villaneuva said.

Loans awarded through the program will be used to directly pay vendors. Funds may not be used to replace lost sales or profits.

To be eligible, member businesses must be locally owned in the City of Niles, Niles Township, the City of Buchanan, Buchanan Township, Bertrand Township and Howard Township. The businesses must have fewer than 100 employees and have been impacted by recent closure mandates.

“I really just want our businesses to know that we are here for them,” Villaneuva said. “If they are in need or are looking for resources, it’s our mission — and it’s my goal — to help these businesses as much as possible.”

To apply, members may obtain a grant application from the chamber, fill it out and send it to Questions may be directed to this email, or to (269) 683-1833.

“The best way that we’re going to come out of this is to work together and come together as a community,” Villaneuva said.