By JESSICA WETZLER
Daily News-Record 10/2/20
When CrossKeys Vineyards was awarded a $10,000 grant through Rockingham County’s Small Business Grant Program, Director of Marketing Babak Bakhtiar said the money was put toward payroll and operation costs. The grant application was approved on July 30, nearly two months after the winery reopened in May.
While Bakhtiar said business at CrossKeys Vineyards is getting close to the pre-COVID-19 pandemic days, it will have additional funding to rely on as the county’s Economic Development Authority approved distributing the leftover $41,500 from the grant program to 10 businesses that had the biggest revenue loss and highest number of employees.
“Every little bit definitely helps,” Bakhtiar said. “This is a year unlike any other.”
During the EDA’s meeting Thursday, the authority reviewed and approved 23 applications submitted during round three of the grant program, totaling $103,500. The program was funded by $500,000 the county received from the federal CARES Act and is used to provide funds to support rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, payroll and similar expenses for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since initiating the program, nearly 70 small businesses located in Rockingham County and the seven incorporated towns have been awarded between $5,000 and $10,000.
During the third round, however, grants ranged from $1,000 to $5,000 due to the grant review team opting to prorate some of the small businesses that applied.
“We had a few from round three that we didn’t feel justified a full $ 5,000 and asked permission to prorate those,” said Timothy Hulings, an Economic Development Authority member and volunteer on the review team.
Hulings told EDA members that some businesses that applied were so small that $5,000 would have exceeded what the business made in a year.
After a handful of businesses received a prorated grant, the board agreed to distribute the leftover funds to businesses that had applied previously, including CrossKeys Vineyards.
Other beneficiaries of additional funding were Hank’s Grille and Catering, Thunderbird Diner, Valley Jump Trampoline Park, the Village Inn, White Oak Lavender Farm, EAB Babies LLC, Bluestone Vineyard and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, operations at the vineyard were forced to change and the business closed in March and April.
Bakhtiar said in a previous interview with the Daily News-Record that Cross-Keys was the first vineyard in the area to close both its bistro and tasting room two weeks before Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order due to the concern over the health of guests and employees.
In order to reach customers and keep a line of revenue open, CrossKeys Vineyards began to offer curbside pickup and delivery, as well as offering free shipping of online orders and direct delivery for customers who live within a certain distance from the winery.
But financially, the winery was still seeing an impact due to private and public events being canceled that would have brought sales in.
“We are going into October with only [ having] had two weddings,” Bakhtiar said. “We usually are at 20 to 25 at this time.”
As business slowly returns back to normal, Bakhtiar said the month is looking to be busy with a wedding scheduled every Saturday in October and Virginia’s annual wine month.
“We are excited to be getting that revenue in and we are excited and looking forward to this month,” he said.
Trish Davidson, director of finance for the county, said Thursday that the nonprofit committee will be meeting soon to discuss distributing the $250,000 in CARES Act funds designated to nonprofits.