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Memphis, Tenn. (October 7, 2020) – Retail and specialty boutiques, once supported wholeheartedly by a loyal customer base are now struggling just to keep their doors open.

“Most customers have not been comfortable coming into the store,” said Grace Byeitima, owner of Mbabazi House of Style on Broad Avenue.  “But we have increased expenses on sanitizer and wipes. We are cleaning on a weekly basis, which costs us money.”

Mbabazi specializes in handmade and sustainable African clothing, accessories, and gifts. Stores like Mbabazi have been hit hard on several fronts. Not only are customers often scared to enter the stores, but there are also increased expenses due to additional cleaning and stocking up on PPE, and getting shipments from suppliers is difficult if not impossible right now.

“We are not able to get materials easily due to most borders being closed off right now,” said Byeitima.

Around 13 percent of NEED Grant recipients have been retail shops and all face similar struggles. Stores like The Treasure Chest Boutique on EH Crump, which received a NEED Grant in August, and Cheryl Pesce: The Lifestyle Store, which received a grant in June are just a couple of retailers that, like Mbabazi, have had to deal with big drops in foot traffic and supplier disruptions. With the grant, Byeitima will focus on paying off debts and improving her online presence.

Mbabazi was one of five businesses approved for a NEED Grant by EDGE today in the Economic Development Finance Committee’s 15th meeting to review grant recipients since May 1st. Other businesses include AJ’s HVAC&R LLC, First Class Professional Services, The Cove, and Luxurious Styles Salon. The committee also approved an amendment providing an additional $1,000 to an earlier NEED Grant recipient, Shiver Station, to offset losses from a recent burglary.

To date, EDGE has awarded $751,700 to the 134 businesses throughout Memphis’s most vulnerable neighborhoods; 110 of those (82%) are minority- and women-owned businesses.

The Neighborhood Emergency Economic Development (NEED) Grant was created to provide relief to small businesses, located in Memphis’ most vulnerable neighborhoods that have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Grace Byeitima