[Editor’s note: the Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund has disbursed over $11 million in cash grants and free rent to more than 900 small businesses.]
Lady Yum is a business built on happiness, a love of baking, and good champagne. Customers are greeted by a display of handmade macarons in every color of the rainbow (and shades in-between), in every flavor imaginable. Owner Megan Wagstaff insists her handmade confections are best paired with champagne. But today her happy place is in its darkest hour.
“I’m trying hard to keep the doors open, but we will need a miracle,” Wagstaff said.
Her shop is located on the Amazon campus in Seattle’s Regrade neighborhood. Business at Lady Yum is down nearly 75 percent in March since the start of measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. And with Washington and several other states limiting all restaurants and bars to take out or delivery, Wagstaff’s business has all but come to a halt.
Late last week, a call came in from Amazon. "My husband came to me crying, and he does not cry. And he said, 'Amazon’s going to help us.'"
Amazon created a $5 million Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund to provide cash grants to local small businesses that need assistance during this difficult time. The fund is intended for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue. The businesses need to be open to the general public, reliant on foot traffic for customers, and have a physical presence within a few blocks of Amazon office buildings in the South Lake Union and Regrade neighborhoods in Seattle or Bellevue, WA.
The grant that Lady Yum received from Amazon is in addition to the company picking up the rent for the shop's Regrade location for the next two months. “It was almost like part-therapy, part-financial relief,” Wagstaff said. “It was a pivotal moment for us in our ability to continue pushing for solutions. It was the mental and financial boost we needed, to know too that we’re not in this alone.”
For now, Lady Yum will rely on shipping and deliveries to help offset some of the losses. While Wagstaff’s business faces an uncertain future, “Amazon stepping up without us having to ask, is amazing. What they’ve given us is valuable time to not have to shut our doors, to figure out what we can to do keep going. And that’s everything.”
Bret Chatalas started Cactus Southwest Kitchen and Bar when he was 22. Today, three decades later, it’s grown to seven locations, including South Lake Union. Chatalas has seen his business through challenging economic times, including 9-11 and the 2008 financial crisis. “There is no comparison to this. We have never been forced to shut down,” said Chatalas. He never dreamed that something that can only be seen through a microscope would upend his livelihood, one he shares with his brother Marc and his father, Bill.
“When you have nothing coming in revenue-wise, and tons of obligations going out, it’s only a matter of time. That’s the scary part,” he said. “We don’t know when this will be over, and we’re trying to figure out how to survive until things change.”
Chatalas learned about Amazon’s Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund on the news. The company is covering his rent, and the grant money he’s received will help with operating expenses. “It buys you time, it’s all you have. It’s helping us sustain longer. And it was unexpected and completely appreciated beyond words. I’m just so grateful.”