OTTUMWA — The amounts are not large. An agency that doles out grants involving millions giving totals as low as $5,000. None comes to more than $25,000.

Each is a lifeline for an Iowa business.

The first round of the Iowa Department of Economic Development’s Small Business Relief Program offered a chance for local businesses, particularly bars and restaurants, to get badly needed cash infusions. The businesses were among the first closed as the COVID-19 pandemic reached Iowa.

Restaurant margins are not big to begin with. In 2018, Forbes Magazine said restaurant growth was being driven by new businesses. While established restaurants may have the resources to weather a downturn in business, new ones haven’t had time to build that customer loyalty. And the industry’s average profit margin — old and new alike — was less than 7 percent.

Fourteen of the 500 grants in the first round of grants were to Wapello County or a neighboring county. One of those was for Appanoose Rapids.

Co-owner David Niño-Liu said the restaurant was bracing for changes due to the virus, but Gov. Kim Reynolds’ order to close down came a week or two sooner than anticipated. That meant not everything was quite in place, particularly bills that were based on prior weeks’ activities.

The grant means those bills can be paid.

“Right away, it means we can honor payments that are critical,” Niño-Liu said. “Rent. Water, Ottumwa water. Water is one we really want to make.”

He said the restaurant is fortunate that its primary creditor, Community 1st Credit Union, has been understanding. The relationship means they have been able to keep the doors open for delivery and carry-out meals, which are allowed under the state’s current restrictions.

It’s enough to survive, Niño-Liu said, “but nobody’s taking any money home.”

Appanoose Rapids was one of the first round of grants announced. A second round included grants for another six area businesses.

Reynolds said Wednesday the applications for the program remain open through April and that the original $4 million available for grants was being raised to $24 million.

“These businesses were among the first to close their normal operations, and it is our goal to get them back up and running as soon as possible,” Reynolds said.

But no one is sure just when that will be.

Matt Milner can be reached at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

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Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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