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SBA money earmarked for restaurants are available, but funds are first come, first serve

U.S. Small Business Administration will release $28.6 billion in grants to restaurants.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Big help is on the way for restaurants that have struggled this past year, and experts say the money is going to run out quickly

There is a federal relief act – money earmarked just for restaurants – but industry insiders who spoke to WCNC Charlotte's Michelle Boudin argue it’s not nearly enough money.

The relief funds are first come, first serve - and you must visit sba.gov/restaurants to apply.

Jill Marcus is among those needing financial help. She owns three Charlotte restaurants – the café at the Discovery Place, the café at the foundation for the Carolinas, and Halcyon in uptown Charlotte. She also has a catering company.

"We are anxiously awaiting the restaurant revitalization grant," she said.

She has had her application ready to go for weeks. All three of her restaurants are currently closed.

"I am ready, I probably researched this more than most people," she said. "I've got ample applications printed out and filled out."

Some experts say the federal restaurant revitalization fund that’s about to open is crumbs compared to the need.

"We expect this funding will be exhausted almost immediately," John Stanford with the Small Business Roundtable told Boudin. "There are just so many restaurants and bars that have felt so much pain. The way the program is designed, it really will help restaurants and bars. But there certainly isn’t enough funding."

The SBA will keep the program open until all funds are exhausted. For the first 21 days that the program is open, the agency will be prioritizing applications from businesses that are owned and operated by women, veterans, and those considered "socially and economically disadvantaged."

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, when you spend $100 at a small business, $48 stays in the community. Spend the same $100 at a big-box store or national retailer and only $14 stays.

Some small businesses that had to close earlier in the pandemic have been able to reopen, in large part because of customer support. That's according to a January 2021 report from Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable, a coalition of organizations that advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs.

According to the report, 25% of small businesses were closed in December 2020, an improvement from 31% in April 2020. Among those that closed and later reopened, 31% say customer support is the reason they were able to do so. Businesses also cited social distancing measures (40%) and loosened restrictions (30%) as factors that allowed them to reopen.

Marcus is hoping the cash injection will help her figure out her next steps- including opening a new restaurant and rethinking the old ones.

"It's very difficult to plan a business when you don’t know if you’re gonna get a grant," she said.

If you are a restaurant operator looking to apply for relief funds, you can visit sba.gov/restaurants.

Tegna and the Associated Press contributed to this report