Spencer looking for big impact from new storefront grants

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 2021

SPENCER — Spencer has $35,000 on hand to help local businesses take their store fronts to the next level, and it is looking for good ideas.

The town, in conjunction with the Salisbury Community Development Coordination, was awarded $25,000 by the Duke Energy Foundation to administer a grant program and has $10,000 of its own cash to put up as part of its former commercial facade grant. The hope is to turn the money into visible improvements in the town.

Grants will be doled out up to $2,500 with no match, and applicants apply for up to $2,000 in additional funding with a one-to-one match.

“The vision is to help the streetscape and the storefronts look better,” Spencer Town Manager Peter Franzese said, adding the program is also looking to develop amenities such as outdoor seating and dining.

Spencer Community Appearance Committee member Amy Ray said the committee sat down to discuss an application process when the money from Duke came into play. The town is looking for creative ideas that will enhance the “social, economic and cultural activity” in the town, according to the grant guidelines.

Ray said she hopes downtown businesses take advantage of the grant opportunity, noting facades can always use some beautification. Ray is co-owner of Pinocchio’s Italian Restaurant, and the establishment intends to apply for the grant as well.

The Rays will recuse themselves from the selection process for their application and leave the room while it is being discussed. If they are selected, they hope to upgrade outdoor lighting and awnings, rebuild window boxes, build a waist-high fence for the yard area in the back of the restaurant and get some outdoor dining furniture.

“If you look at individual businesses, it will definitely go a long way,” Ray said. “Especially going through COVID and the obstacles businesses have faced.”

The grants are competitive. The grant guidelines say the applications will be reviewed by the town Board of Aldermen and grants will go to applicants with the highest quality projects that will make the most significant contributions to the town.

Projects will be scored on a scale of 0-6 based on a rubric. There are some automatic disqualifications. Requesting a grant for routine maintenance is a disqualification, as is a project that is not consistent with the program goals of promoting economic development, business, job creation and would either damage or not promote the Salisbury Avenue corridor.

Franzese said the program, announced late last week, has not received any applications yet.

“I think this is a really neat framework to bring the town, our nonprofit partners and businesses all together to improve one, the streetscape and properties in town,” Franzese said. “To me, it’s just a win bringing so many groups together.”

The town plans to select recipients in December and announce the results in early 2022. For more information and to apply, go to spencernc.gov/2021-hometown-innovation-grant/.