Escondido businesses find lifeline in city’s $1 million grant program

A $1 million Escondido grant program aims to help local small businesses survive the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The city received $1 million from the County of San Diego to fund the grant program, which in turn came from the federal government through the CARES Act, a pandemic relief bill approved by Congress in March.

The grant program was launched in July, and applications will be accepted through Aug. 28, or until the funds are exhausted, whichever occurs first. Eligible businesses can receive up to $15,000 to pay for such expenses as rent, payroll and costs related to their COVID-19 response.

As of Thursday, the city had received 197 applications, and had awarded 58 grants, totaling $595,776, according to Amber Tarrac, deputy director of economic development.

To qualify for a grant, businesses must be located in the city of Escondido, have annual revenue of $1 million or less, and possess a valid business license in the city. They must be for-profit businesses, and both home-based businesses and sole proprietorships are eligible.

In one of the outdoor dining areas at J&M Family Restaurant waitress Kimberly Forrest takes customer's order.

In one of the outdoor dining areas at J&M Family Restaurant waitress Kimberly Forrest takes customer’s order. Indoor dining is prohibited because of the Corona virus.

(Charlie Neuman/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“The goal is to help support our local businesses, which have been severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions” imposed by state and county health officials, Tarrac said. “We want to make sure we come out together stronger on the other side.”

Many different types of businesses have applied for the grants, including restaurants, retail stores, hair and nail salons, barber shops, and small manufacturing concerns, Tarrac said.

Among the businesses to successfully apply for an Escondido grant was Deborah’s Next to New, a consignment shop on East Valley Parkway that offers clothing, furniture, jewelry and household items. The business has been operating since the late 1970s, but closed in March for nearly three months due to the pandemic. The shop reopened on July 1.

“It was a huge hit,” operations manager Jeff Kitfield said of the financial cost of the shutdown. The closure did have one silver lining, Kitfield said: providing time for the business to spruce up its interior for the first time in years.

The consignment shop received a $9,000 grant from the city program, which it will use for rent and payroll, providing a financial cushion as the business navigates its way through the economic crunch.

Waitress Kimberly Forrest takes care of customers Larry and Connie Clay.

Waitress Kimberly Forrest takes care of customers Larry and Connie Clay under a red umbrella in one of the placeOs outdoor dining areas at J&M Family Restaurant. The Corona virus prohibits customers from eating indoors. SheOs worked there for over 30 years.

(Charlie Neuman/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Kitfield said that beyond the grant program, the city has been very supportive. For example, it loosened its rules to allow for more advertising signage, and also expedited permits for the renovation work.

The shop has made some changes to its operations due to COVID-19. It no longer accepts walk-in consignments, requiring an appointment for all drop-offs. The shop has also removed some of its inventory to allow more space for physical distancing. And extra diligence is taken to clean and sanitize items before they are put out for sale.

While overall business has been slow, Kitfield said, the store’s regular customers have been joined by younger shoppers, who may have discovered Deborah’s during the pandemic, since malls and other retail businesses have been closed.

“We’re excited and very optimistic” that business will continue to improve, Kitfield said.

Another business to benefit from the city’s grant program is J&M Family Restaurant, also on East Valley Parkway. Owner Joe Goncalves, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Maria, was awarded a $15,000 grant, which will be used for rent on their building.

J&M Family Restaurant owner Joe Goncalves sits in a booth.

In the vacant main dining room at J&M Family Restaurant owner Joe Goncalves sits in a booth with the recently installed plexiglass partitions separating the booths. Shortly after they were installed indoor dining was prohibited because of the Corona virus.

(Charlie Neuman/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Goncalves also received a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. But he said things run much more smoothly when the program is operated at the local government level.

“Local government knows the needs of the people in town, and they can act a lot faster,” he said.

The eatery, which specializes in comfort food and a few South of the Border items, is at about 50 percent capacity due to outdoor tables the family has added, along with their existing patio.

Goncalves said his business, like many others, has been on a see-saw, as health officials first closed indoor dining, then reopened it, only to shut it down again when virus cases spiked. Despite the uncertainty, Goncalves remains upbeat.

“I have to feel optimistic, otherwise how are we going to survive?” Goncalves said. “But it’s getting tougher.”

An online application for the city of Escondido’s COVID-19 business grant can be found at A Spanish version of the application is at The program is being administered through a partnership between the city and the San Diego North Economic Development Council.

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