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    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Four New London businesses receive $40,000 in grants

    Amy Stratos Leigh, Misha Sherman, Ralph Belfiglio and Adrian Vega pose for a photo in the Southeastern Connecticut Women's Business Center on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. They respectively own String Theory School of Music, Washington Street Coffee House, Astor Place Inc. and Adrian Vega Hair Co., and the Women's Business Development Council awarded each business a $10,000 grant. (Erica Moser/The Day)
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    New London ― The Women’s Business Development Council on Wednesday gave $10,000 each to four small businesses in the city, so they can grow their businesses through purchases such as lighting, photography equipment, technology for a recording studio, and a larger gas range.

    The WBDC awarded money to Astor Place Inc., Adrian Vega Hair Co., String Theory School of Music, and Washington Street Coffee House through the New London/WBDC Small Business Grant Program, which utilizes the city’s allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

    The City Council in the spring approved $260,000 in ARPA funds to WBDC, which was for both the grant program and renovations to the new home of WBDC’s eastern Connecticut regional office at 61 Bank St.

    WBDC launched the grant program in October for businesses ― not only women-owned ones ― in New London that are at least two years old and have had annual revenue between $25,000 and $2 million for the past year.

    Ralph Belfiglio, creative director of Astor Place, said the grant “is going to be a tremendous help to us, because we expanded our business this year,” growing from renting a space on State Street for 10 years to purchasing commercial space at 463 Bank St. Astor Place is a creative agency that makes marketing videos for companies.

    Belfiglio said clients said they wanted a stage to shoot videos, which is one of the reasons they moved, but that came at a cost. He said he and executive producer Lauren Logan were not planning on purchasing more equipment for another year, but the grant enables to them to accelerate their plan and get lighting and some new cameras.

    String Theory School of Music, which opened 15 years ago, also owns its building. Owner Amy Stratos Leigh said the business started working on a recording studio and was going to do livestreaming, but the pandemic brought that to a halt, and now this funding will help get that back on track. She said people will be able to come into String Theory to do podcasts.

    Leigh said a new program from String Theory means there is an artist with gainful, steady employment, someone who doesn’t have to go into the city to support themselves.

    Washington Street Coffee House co-owner Misha Sherman said she is using the funds for a new stove range, which will have a bigger griddle and two ovens instead of one.

    “The main thing is to be able to put out more food more quickly,” Sherman said, and having a larger griddle is useful for a business that cooks so many eggs.

    New London’s director of economic development and planning, Felix Reyes, talked Wednesday about Adrian Vega, with whom he grew up in the city.

    Reyes said Vega became “one of the premier barbers” in New London and New England but was renting a chair, and Reyes helped him get his own lease. Vega now operates his own place next door to the WBDC, on Golden Street.

    “This is an absolute success story. I’m so proud of him,” Reyes said. Vega plans to use the funds for photography equipment to help develop social media content, and for a computer.

    Brenda Thickett, senior vice president for programs and people at WBDC, said the next deadline for New London businesses to apply for grants of up to $10,000 is Jan. 15. The organization will review applications on a monthly basis until funds, totaling about $300,000, are exhausted.

    “I’m glad to see the Women’s Business Development Center expanding and thriving, because it means that more women-owned and small businesses are expanding and thriving,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Wednesday at the check distribution. She talked about the WBDC’s Equity Match Grant program, which served as a catalyst for the New London program.

    New London Mayor Michael Passero and Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, also attended the check distribution.

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