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City announces second round of SPACE Grant awardees

Philip Brown
City announces second round of SPACE Grant awardees
Mayor Michelle Wu announces the second round of the Office of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion’s SPACE Grant Program. There are 37 awardees this year, with grantees will be receiving grants between $100,000 to $200,000. PHOTO: MIKE MEJIA, MAYOR'S OFFICE

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On April 3, 2024, Mayor Michelle Wu announced the second round of Supporting Pandemic Affected Community Enterprises (SPACE) Grant awardees. These local entrepreneurs will receive American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to help them expand their businesses and move into vacant storefronts.

“Our local businesses, the stories of their development and the customers that they serve, are what make Boston’s storefronts alive and unique,” said Mayor Wu. “Our goal is to invest in businesses that reflect our communities and support them in making Boston a home for everyone.”

The SPACE Grant program was first announced at the end of 2022, following the release of the City’s Downtown Revitalization Plan. A total of $9 million has been budgeted for the SPACE program. The program exists to provide opportunities for diverse small business owners to open their new storefront location in major commercial districts like Downtown, the Seaport and Back Bay. The SPACE program was developed with recommendations made by small-business owners to Mayor Wu and the Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion with the express purpose of bringing vibrancy to all City neighborhoods and helping to close the racial wealth gap.

“It felt amazing to receive the grant,” said Danielle Johnson, founder and CEO of the Spark FM Online radio platform. “I am grateful for the opportunity to expand my business and open my space to the creative community. I encourage small business owners to take advantage of this grant program, because access to capital is limited to businesses like ours.”

It may require some effort, she added, but business owners need to “just get it done.”

Spark FM will use the funds to move to larger space at Blue Hill  Avenue and Morton Street, Johnson said.

SPACE provides grants of between $100,000-$200,000 over the course of three years to small businesses looking to open new or nearly new locations to fill vacant commercial space across the city. The program will prioritize helping local small businesses that were most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Priority businesses include food service and restaurants, childcare, repair shops, laundromats, dry cleaning, retail, art and entertainment, creative economy, fitness, wellness and recreation. Liquor stores, cannabis establishments, office spaces, franchises and lab spaces are excluded.

To be considered in the upcoming final round, a SPACE Grant business must be located in Boston, have less than 25 employees, have a recently signed lease (between January 2023 and March 2024), and, importantly, have a well-documented business plan. Other restrictions apply.

The funds can be used for start-up costs like leasehold improvements, POS (point-of-sale) terminals, inventory, equipment and security deposits. The program will also contribute up to 28% of the awarded businesses’ rent for three years. In addition to the funding, the city’s Small Business Technical Assistance Program provides support in lease negotiations, marketing, accounting, and taxes.

Grantees are also being supported by local financial institutions, including the Boston Local Development Corporation and Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation and tenant improvement contributions offered by participating landlords. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts are also offering free memberships to their organizations.

The program awards are grants, so there is no repayment required.

At The Biz Barbershop, Euan Davis and family celebrate their SPACE Grant award. PHOTO: Courtesy Euan Davis

Euan Davis, proprietor of The Biz Barbershop, emphasized the technical assistance component of the program. Lease negotiations are very important, he noted.

“I see many vacant units that are left gutted by the landlords. Despite the condition of the space, landlords are still requiring high rents, like $3,200 for a 900-square-foot unit,” he said.

Pamela Leins, owner of In the Cut barbershop, said, “I found out about the program when Main Streets contacted me. I looked into it and decided to apply.” When Leins received notice that her business got a six-figure grant, “It was like Christmas in February,” she said. Leins said that her company will use the money to buy new equipment, to build out a new location and mostly to “hit the ground running.” 

In July 2023, 24 grantees were awarded a total of $2,830,000 in the first round. In this round, announced April 3, $4,575,000 in SPACE Grants was awarded to 37 Boston entrepreneurs opening new storefronts in vacant spaces throughout the city.

As for closing the wealth gap, the city reports that 73% of the second-round grantee businesses are minority-owned and more than 75% are women-owned.

“The SPACE program shows that the city is leaning into the strength of small businesses as a foundation of our city’s economy” said Leins. In the Cut plans to open a new barbershop in Nubian Square in July and will employ 10 to 13 Bostonians.

The next funding round is now open, with a deadline of April 30, 2024.

Boston small businesses, business, In the Cut barbershop, Mayor Michelle Wu, SPACE Grant Program, The Biz Barbershop