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Mesa hopes to invest some COVID relief funds into small businesses

Downtown Mesa
Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 21:51:59-04

MESA, AZ — Main Street in downtown Mesa is in the midst of a renaissance. Several new storefronts and businesses have opened in the last year -- even amid a global pandemic: Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, Herb 'n' Smoke, Proof and Main Street Harvest, and Que Chevere.

Most recently, the Mesa Farmer's Market was relocated downtown to the Mesa Arts Center.

“It was scary. We didn’t know what to expect. We expected the worst. We ran the restaurant like a food truck,” said Orvid Cutler, who along with his wife, Maria Fernanda, own Que Chevere, a Venezuelan food truck-turned-restaurant in downtown Mesa.

They opened the doors to their physical restaurant in the middle of the pandemic.

Hard work, good food and word of mouth contributed to Que Chevere’s early success. But, like most restaurants, need a little more assistance to survive.

“In the first round, we took everything you could imagine and tried to make a difference for our community and remain resilient for our city," said Mesa Vice Mayor Jenn Duff.

Que Chevere is one of 525 small businesses in Mesa that were saved when Congress passed the first COVID stimulus aid package, she said. Duff represents downtown Mesa, an area of the city that restored and revitalized.

“It would have erased 10 years of success we have had,” Duff said. “10 years of building and nurturing those businesses.”

Arizona cities are about to receive a new round of COVID relief aid from the federal government.

For the City of Mesa, it’s $100 million. They'll receive $50 million now and another $50 million in two years.

“It’s hard to market a business when we’re doing everything,” said Cutler, owner of Que Chevere

This time Cutler isn’t looking for a lifeline, he hoping for an investment in his business. That's what Vice Mayor Duff is hoping to do, too.

“In the second round, we’re looking in what ways we can invest this money in a way that will be a continual program," she said.

With the money the city received in the earlier COVID relief package, it funded a program designed to help small businesses build and grow. Vice Mayor Duff said she would like to see that become a permanent part of the city’s budget.

“It’s a point of pride in our city in how we’ve used that money in our community and it gives us a good foundation to build for the future,” she said, “I feel the Council is bound together on these values.”

Mesa is currently waiting for the federal government to issue guidance on how it can use the $100 million. When that time comes, another local business, 12 West Brewing, which opened a large taproom at the beginning of 2020 in downtown Mesa, will be ready to apply.

“Anything we can do to keep the business moving forward and keep it positive,” said General Manager Chuck Fowler.