Two downtown Oxford businesses were awarded grants last week to aid their growth.
HomeGrown Brewing Co. and Hawaiian Shave Ice and Ice Cream will each receive $2,500 from the Genisys Credit Union Spirit of Main Street Micro Business Startup Grant Program.
“We’re thrilled that we got selected,” said Addison Township resident Marie Powers, who co-owns HomeGrown Brewing with her husband John.
“We really could use the help,” said Brandon Township resident Gina Rosczewski, who co-owns Hawaiian Shave Ice with her husband Michael.
The grant program is the result of a partnership between Genisys Credit Union and Main Street Oakland County (MSOC). It’s purpose is to support the attraction, retention and growth of small businesses in the county’s historic downtowns and commercial corridors.
Start-up businesses that have been around for five years or less and may be looking to expand into new markets are eligible to receive grants of up to $2,500. Applicants must provide a minimum dollar-for-dollar match, so “they all have skin in the game,” said MSOC Coordinator John Bry.
According to Bry, there were 11 applicants in this round and seven were awarded grants.
“We thought this (grant) would be a helpful step for (HomeGrown and Hawaiian Shave Ice) because of the impending construction on M-24 (next year),” Bry said. “We wanted to support them in their expansion and marketing efforts (to) help mitigate that situation.”
Open since April 2017, HomeGrown Brewing will use its $2,500 to increase its marketing efforts. According to Powers, the craft brewery and restaurant plans to use some of the money to commission an artist to paint a mural on the north side of its 28 N. Washington St. building as a way to increase the visibility of HomeGrown and the “downtown as a whole.”
HomeGrown also plans to invest in promoting the establishment as a venue for wedding ceremonies and receptions.
Bry said MSOC and Genisys Credit Union wanted to help HomeGrown – a business that’s been pulling itself up by its own bootstraps since its inception – “take things to the next level.”
Hawaiian Shave Ice, open since May 2017 and located at 29 S. Washington St. (next to Centennial Park), plans to devote its $2,500 toward purchasing a fully-equipped, self-contained concession trailer that will allow the business to serve shave ice and ice cream anywhere, instead of setting up under a tent as is the practice now.
Rosczewski said the trailer’s purpose would be two-fold.
One, it would allow Hawaiian Shave Ice to travel to special events and set up shop there.
“We go places where we know we’re not going to make a lot of money, but it’s just to get our name out there,” Rosczewski said. “It’s definitely an advertising (tool) and it pulls people into the main store.”
Two, Rosczewski wants to use the trailer as a second location during the M-24 construction next year. She’s hoping to find a space to park and conduct business on a regular basis. “We’re not really sure where that would be – someplace close by,” she said.
“They want to have the ability to take the business on the road, away from the construction zone,” Bry said. “We thought that was a smart and interesting strategy.”
Rosczewski views this mobile second location as a good way to “test the market” and determine whether there’s the potential to expand.
For folks not familiar with Hawaiian Shave Ice, Rosczewski emphasized the shop doesn’t serve “ground ice” or snowcones. It’s ice that’s “literally shaved off” a block by a special machine, then flavored, she explained. Shave ice “holds the flavor” much better than a snowcone and offers a very different texture that’s pleasing to the mouth, Rosczewski said.
Rosczewski and her husband first experienced shave ice when they married in Hawaii in 1997. She said it’s very popular there and the places that serve it consistently have lines that are “a block long.” Seeing this, the couple decided to “bring a taste of Hawaii” to Michigan.
“We love it,” Rosczewski said.
While $2,500 might not sound like a lot of money, Powers and Rosczewski agreed it’s a big help to a small business.
“It’s huge because as a small business, we typically don’t have that (much) cash laying around in our promotions fund,” Powers said. “At most, we may spend a couple hundred dollars on any specific event . . . (This) will allow us to do something on a larger scale in a quicker time frame. That’s a lot of money for a small business.”
Rosczewski explained her store has “to sell a lot of shave ice” to get $2,500.
“It’s a tough business to be in,” she said. “When you’re making money a few dollars at a time, it takes a while.”
Rosczewski noted the $2,500 grant equals “probably 10 percent” of the concession trailer’s total cost.
Powers encourages other small businesses, particularly new ones, to seek out and take advantage of grant programs like this.
“They may not be aware of (them), but they are out there,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities . . . and even if the dollar amounts are smaller, they quickly add up to give you (the) funds to do something you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford . . . It’s out there, you just have to look for it.”
Start-up businesses in 16 communities are eligible for the Genisys Credit Union Spirit of Main Street Micro Business Startup Grant Program. Locally, those communities include Oxford, Lake Orion, Clarkston and Ortonville.
“We’re really excited and we plan to work closely with Oakland County Main Street to best utilize these funds,” Powers said. “They do offer free services to businesses. I encourage all small businesses to take advantage of that.”
For more information about this grant program, call Bry at (248) 858-5444 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Bry, businesses appreciate this grant program because it’s “not complicated” and it’s not “another loan” that they have to pay off.
He said “this little incentive” has “been enough of a trigger” for these businesses to “take a chance.”
All approved businesses are required to have a completed business plan and must have consulted with the Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Center at least once prior to grant submission. Business consulting services are available at no charge to applicants.