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Norwich officials trying to stay in touch with businesses through COVID-19 crisis

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Norwich — The COVID-19 picture for Norwich businesses is predictably bleak, with restaurants struggling, people working from home and even those allowed to remain open seeing supply chains cut off and business dwindle.

Officials at the Norwich Community Development Corp. have been contacting local businesses and landlords to try to inform them of the ever-changing array of state shutdown orders, state and federal relief packages and local support programs as the COVID-19 crisis continues into the foreseeable future.

An open Facebook group, Norwich COVID-19 Business Resources at bit.ly/norwichcv19fb, shares information on everything from COVID-19 prevention to business relief programs available and ideas from similar Facebook pages and groups for helping businesses.

“This is just so unprecedented,” NCDC President Robert Mills said. “There’s winners and losers, but everyone is losing in the end.”

One of the city’s largest utility customers, Atlantic City Linen Supply in the business park, is temporarily closed, since most of its business comes from the region’s two casinos, now shuttered. Downtown restaurants are open for takeout and delivery, which now includes alcohol, but are struggling.

NCDC Senior Vice President Jason Vincent, also a part owner of Epicure Brewing on Franklin Street, said when he talks to struggling restaurant owners, their attention always turns to concern for their workers. Even if they are open for takeout, business and tips, the staple of restaurant workers’ income, have dwindled.

“Some restaurants are really struggling, because they are not designed for takeout. And everybody is worried about their talent. They’re worried about paying their bills and layoffs,” he said.

S&A Market, a downtown Asian grocery store, could remain open as an essential business, but owner Mei He cannot get supplies of her produce and products from New York sources, Mills said. The store is closed temporarily.

NCDC, the city’s economic development agency, administers the city’s taxpayer-funded downtown revitalization programs, which includes loans to businesses and property owners renovating downtown spaces.

NCDC is offering loan forbearances for at least three months to qualifying loan recipients who previously were current on payments. NCDC Vice President Jill Fritzsche said three businesses have qualified so far for the relief.

“A number of our Norwich businesses are landlords,” Mills said, “and we have been advising them to be proactive and give some sort of forbearance to their tenants and approach the (Small Business Administration) for assistance.”

NCDC developed and runs the Foundry 66 shared workspace facility for startups and entrepreneurs needing professional space to operate. The facility is closed to the public following the state's requirement that nonessential businesses remain closed. Paying members have key access, but most are closed, Fritzsche said.

A real estate agent is allowed to stay open but has little business, Fritzsche said. A massage therapist is shut down, and a yoga instructor has switched to online classes. A wedding photographer also is closed for now. Two new retail businesses that had hoped to open April 1 in the Sunshine building part of the Franklin Street complex are now looking into May or later, she said.

Foundry 66 is offering rental forbearance for its members who have shut down during the crisis.

c.bessette@theday.com

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