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Relief funding saves the day

Warehouse Cinemas, located in Frederick, had to delay its opening after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, but were finally able to open in September 2020. (Submitted photo)

As America witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic force live music, theater, sports, and entertainment venues across the country close their doors, Cofounder and chief Operations Officer Greg Mills wondered if a 2020 grand opening for his business, Warehouse Cinemas located in Frederick, Maryland, would even be possible.

“We were full on construction. We were expecting to be done by the end of July,” said Mills. “Things started getting shut down, quarantine started happening, the numbers started rising, and our first thought was ‘are we going to be able to proceed and can we do this safely?’”

But Mills had other questions like: should they shut construction down, how will they keep employees safe, and when could they finally open?

“It was obviously a challenge to scope out what the next six months looked like,” said Mills. “Every time we thought we had an opportunity to open, a different report or different numbers would come out – it just kept getting pushed further and further out.”

General Manager Kyle Kobbs was also concerned.

“It lasted so much longer than anyone thought,”he said. “There were so many moments last year where I just didn’t know if we were going to be opening in two weeks or two months.”

Frustrating as it was however, the staff was patient and ready to go the minute Kobbs called “Action.”

After a two-month delay, Mills, Kobbs, and the entire Warehouse Cinemas team opened their doors to the public on September 14, 2020. But that delay did not come without some serious financial hardship.

While federal money from the CARES Act was available for businesses that had qualifying revenue from 2019, as a new business Warehouse Cinemas did not qualify. That is when the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) stepped in to assist.

Support from Governor Hogan’s “Maryland Strong Economic Recovery Initiative”helped Mills and the team continue their mission. The initiative was part of more than $700 million in funding approved by the Governor and General Assembly for emergency economic relief during the pandemic.

Administered by DHCD, the assistance was open to entertainment venues
that closed or cancelled events and performances due to capacity limitations in response to the pandemic, and for which any previous state or federal assistance was not sufficient to cover.

Warehouse Cinemas, located in Frederick, had to delay its opening after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, but were finally able to open in September 2020. (Submitted photo)

So, Warehouse Cinemas applied and was awarded $400,000 in assistance. It was the heroic event the team needed in order to keep their promise to their customers alive.

“That breathing room to know that you didn’t have to cut corners, you didn’t have to not deliver on the promise that we have to our customers to have that top tier experience. It was a game changer,”said Mills.

In total, DHCD has administered nearly $100 million in COVID-19 relief funding to approximately 2,200 nonprofits, tourism institutions, downtown Main Streets and businesses such as Mills’theater. DHCD Secretary Kenneth C. Holt could not be any prouder of the efforts to help Maryland citizens and businesses owners with this relief funding.

“This is a critical recovery resource to help these businesses as they ramp back up their operations,”said Secretary Holt. “When we can provide quick and direct assistance, we are not solely helping these businesses, we are strengthening the whole community.”

Now, fast forward to the summer of 2021, you will see both Kobbs and Mills doing what they love for a community they care so much for – bringing the movie-going experience back. A benchmark achievement to getting back to normal, safely.

After its first weekend in theaters, the highly anticipated box office hit “Black Widow”filled the recliner seats at Warehouse Cinemas with movie fans of all ages expecting nothing but the best. Just the mention of the film’s title gets Mills and Kobbs excited.

“Knowing that they are actually experiencing what we have been working on for six years – it’s the culmination of all of our work,”exclaimed Mills. “It shows us that people are here for an experience. It shows us that people really want to get out and live again in a post-pandemic era. It was extraordinarily impactful, for me.”

“I tell everyone on the team, we (the staff ) are part of the show. It is more than just a movie,”adds Kobbs. “The smiles, the small interactions, the little things that we can do to make a big difference in our customer’s day, we do that. We call it “save the day.’”

NEIGHBORHOOD BUSINESSWORKS:

Thinking of starting or expanding a business? Maryland DHCD can help:

  • Neighborhood BusinessWorks provides flexible financing to new or expanding small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
  • The program provides loan amounts up to $5 million with a target loan term between five and 15 years, depending on the use of funding and loan amount.
  • To be eligible for funding, the business or organization must be located in a designated Sustainable Community, Priority Funding Area, or, in certain rural counties, an Opportunity Zone.
  • Neighborhood BusinessWorks funding can support a variety of activities including: real estate acquisition; new construction or property rehabilitation; purchase of machinery and equipment; manufacturing, and; other costs associated with opening or expanding a small business.

For more information, visit https:// dhcd.maryland.gov/Business/.

PROJECT RESTORE:

Looking to relocate your business?? Check out Project Restore!

  • Project Restore provides financial incentives for taking over vacant retail and commercial space
  • Rental subsidies of up to $2,500 per month, sales tax rebates of up to $250,000 per year
  • To qualify for Project Restore, eligible entities must begin new or expanded operations in space that has not been generating sales tax receipts for the past six months or more.
  • All applicants commit to occupying the space for a minimum of 12 months following receipt of the grant.

For more information on Project Restore, visit https://dhcd.maryland. gov/ProjectRestore.

Minority Business/Expanding Opportunities 2021 cover

Expanding Opportunities

This article is featured in the 2021 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact [email protected].