HOLLAND — A relief fund was created to help downtown restaurants and retailers in Holland and Zeeland that are struggling due to COVID-19.


The fund was established by the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce Foundation in partnership with the Now for the Next Fund of the Community Foundation of the Holland Zeeland Area.


“Through the years, our downtown businesses have been there for us,” said West Coast Chamber President Jane Clark. “They are part of what makes our area unique and special. This is one way that we are attempting to help them weather this storm and maintain the health and vibrancy of our downtown districts.”


The downtown relief fund currently has up to $150,000 from donations of individuals, companies and foundations. Downtown businesses can request up to $10,000 through the initiative.


The chamber staff will be working with local business leaders to vet the applications. Not all applications will be granted due to limited funds. With a $10,000 request limit per business, at least 15 businesses will be able to secure funding, Clark said, and the goal is to raise more money for the relief fund.


“Our goal is to get dollars into the hands of the merchants as soon as possible,” Clark said. “So many folks are adapting with creative business practices.”


Business owners are offering more delivery and curbside pickup options, and creating websites to make shopping remotely easier for customers.


There are 145 businesses total in the downtown districts in Holland Zeeland. Businesses that apply for downtown relief funding must also have been in business for at least three years, and must have experienced a financial hardship from COVID-19.


Applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. May 18. Additional information and applications can be found on the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce website: westcoastchamber.org, in the Chamber’s Coronavirus Business Toolkit. Questions can be directed to grants@westcoastchamber.org.


There has been state relief programs for businesses struggling due to the virus outbreak and associated shutdowns, Clark said, but funding has been very limited.


There was $300,000 in grants for small businesses to apply for in Ottawa and Allegan counties through the Michigan Small Business Relief Program. Out of 852 businesses that applied for the small business grant funding, 31 small businesses were able to receive grants from the program — of those, 11 were from Holland and Zeeland.


“Talent attraction and retention is a priority of the Now for the Next Fund and our vibrant downtown is essential to recruiting individuals and families who want to learn, work, start a business and raise a family in Holland and Zeeland,” said Bret Docter, chair of the Now for the Next Advisory Committee.


Dine-in services at restaurants and bars have been shut down since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order on March 16, which has been extended through May 28 with the aim to stop the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential retailers have also had to pivot to offering orders with delivery or curbside service to stay open.


“Our downtown businesses are severely impacted by the halt of the economy, and the Downtown Relief Fund is a way to offer some support to help our restaurants and retailers during this challenging time,” Docter said.


— Contact reporter Kate Carlson at kcarlson@hollandsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @SentinelKate and @BizHolland.