Cambridge Launches $2.5 Million Small Business Relief Program


The City of Cambridge announced a $2.5 million restaurant and nightlife relief grant program for businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this month.

The program will award grants of $10,000 to eligible businesses, prioritizing those owned by people of color, women, and other historically marginalized groups as well as those which have not been recipients of previous grants.

The American Rescue Plan Act will finance the awards, which will be available to “local, non-franchise cafes, restaurants, and entertainment venues (e.g. movie theaters, performance venues, galleries, entertainment promoters),” according to a press release announcing the program. Cambridge was allocated $88.1 million in ARPA funding to distribute for the purposes of local economic recovery.

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui praised the economic relief effort in the press release.


“The uncertainty of the last two years has made operations difficult for restaurants and nightlife venues,” Siddiqui wrote. “These grants, which will prioritize some of our hardest hit businesses, will help restaurants and nightlife venues that have a long road to recovery.”

Theodora M. “Theo” Skeadas ’12, executive director of small business advocacy group Cambridge Local First, said the effort to support businesses is much warranted.

“These are businesses that are historically under-resourced relative to their more advantaged peers, and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” Skeadas said. “I applaud their efforts to provide additional resources to business owners and businesses that are most adversely hit by the pandemic and all of the challenges that it entails.”

The grant’s focus on restaurants and nightlife operations will extend Covid-19 relief to organizations which may have been excluded from previous federally funded grant efforts.

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale wrote in a press release that recovering Cambridge’s nightlife is “critical to our city.”

“Cambridge’s restaurants and nightlife venues are a vital part of our community and these sectors have been among the hardest hit by this pandemic,” he wrote.

Kari Kuelzer, owner of Harvard Square restaurant and bar Grendel’s Den, said the announced grants were a small step in the right direction.

“When you’re the scale of a business like Grendel’s, most of the city programs provide only sort of a drop in the bucket amount of support. They barely pay a week of your rent,” she said. “It's been a really rough road. I think every little bit helps.”

Zina Thompson, owner of Zina’s Hairdressing and a member of a city-wide advisory committee for Black, Indigenous, and people of color-owned businesses, said Cambridge was doing an “amazing job of supporting businesses.”

“They came to help us at such a crucial time,” Thompson said. “It's a great thing for the younger generations to see how minorities can make it in this world.”

The Cambridge Community Development Department plans to offer further relief programs in the coming months, according to its spokesperson Brianna Garcia.

“The City will continue to find ways to support our local businesses as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and the community’s economic recovery,” Garcia wrote in an emailed statement.

—Staff writer Katherine M. Burstein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kmburstein1.