The iconic St. Patrick's hats that Blue Shamrock used to celebrate birthdays. Photo courtesy The Blue Shamrock
The iconic St. Patrick's hats that Blue Shamrock used to celebrate birthdays.

The kind of support that The Blue Shamrock had is coming to restaurants across Michigan in President Biden’s COVID relief plan.

ST. LOUIS, Mich.—On the Monday before St. Patrick’s Day, the Blue Shamrock is a busy place. Last year, the emergence of the coronavirus was a pall over the celebration tailor-made for an Irish pub like the Shamrock, so being able to be open, even at partial capacity, is a relief for the pub.

For manager John Matthews, being able to keep his staff on board through the pandemic to get to this moment was a challenge—one program like Michigan’s grants to small businesses helped him achieve. Another program like that, this one part of the recently-passed coronavirus relief package developed by President Joe Biden’s administration, is on the way to provide support like that again and keep Michigan restaurants afloat during the pandemic.

Even more than keeping the Shamrock open, the grant from the state helped keep St. Louis residents on payroll.

“It wasn’t so much [about] keeping the business open, it was keeping the people who work here employed,” he told The ‘Gander. “I believe that being a small, community business you’re here to support the community, so it was a way of keeping everyone employed.”

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The current wave of coronavirus relief coming to Michigan restaurants will come in the form of grants. This is an important change from 2020’s federal support, which came in the form of loans, explained Matthews. 

“They both did similar things, other than I didn’t have any fear of having to return grant money” he said. “But, you know, every dollar helps.”

The Shamrock applied for and received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in 2020 which offered small businesses loans that could be forgiven if the money was used in very specific ways. Though much smaller, the money from Michigan’s grant program was never going to need to be paid back, which was a worry of the heads of the pub’s management. 

And it meant not having to file the paperwork to request loan forgiveness, which Shamrock had to do for its PPP relief.

That’s why the grants targeted at restaurants as part of 2021’s American Rescue Plan are so important.

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The grants, which will soon be available through the Small Business Administration, are targeted to businesses focused on providing food and drink. That includes everything from a Lansing food truck to a Kalamazoo brewpub to a caterer in Houghton. That money will be able to go to payroll, supplies, maintenance, and other business expenses.

That freedom is also something Matthews appreciates. He was able to allocate the grant money he got from Michigan exclusively to payroll and, by doing so, he kept 12 people employed.

But he is keenly aware that coronavirus relief is a short-term solution. The loans last summer kept payroll going for a few months, but Michigan’s grant evaporated quickly. That’s where everyday Michiganders come in, Matthews said.

“Continue to frequent your local small businesses,” he encouraged Michiganders. “Whether they’re restaurants and bars or whether they’re small businesses—that’s truly what we need.”