GARDINER — To help businesses meet critical needs and plan for resilience, Gardiner Main Street is launching a new grant initiative.

Under the Catalyst Grant program, owners of small businesses across Gardiner can apply for up to $2,500 that can be used for a range of business activity, including physical improvements, inventory, marketing, payroll or utilities.

The grant program is being funded with money repaid to loans from the Gardiner Growth Initiative, which has concluded. In all, $24,359 is available.

“The (Gardiner Main Street) board’s intention is to give it all out,” Melissa Lindley, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said.

To be eligible, businesses must be federally recognized for-profit businesses on commercial property in Gardiner. Additionally, they must have 50 or fewer employees and have been in business for more than six months.

While the focus of Gardiner Main Street is supporting economic and community development in the city’s historic downtown neighborhood, this program is open to any eligible business in the city to help meet the challenges they face with supply chain disruptions, staffing shortages and inflation.

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Dawn Thistle, president of the Gardiner Main Street board of directors, said it’s exciting to be able to put the money to the use it was intended.

“Hopefully, it will have some solid impact and be helpful for Gardiner,” Thistle said.

The Gardiner Growth Initiative was launched in 2014 to offer financial incentives for businesses to locate in downtown Gardiner.

With funding from the former Bank of Maine and the Gardiner Board of Trade, businesses could apply for forgivable loans for infrastructure costs, free rent for long-term leases and grants for working capital for businesses to help lower the start-up costs of opening a new location in downtown Gardiner. As local companies repaid those loans, Gardiner Main Street was able to keep the money for future use.

During its life, the program drew Emery’s Meat & Produce, Frosty’s Donuts and Craft Beer Cellar to Gardiner.

Emery’s continues to do business in Gardiner. Frosty’s closed its Gardiner and Freeport locations in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Craft Beer Cellar owner John Callinan closed that business and opened Jokers & Rogues Brewing during the pandemic, but it closed its doors permanently in November.

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The deadline for grant applications is June 3. A panel will make its selections based on the impact of the proposed project, the impact of the company’s service on the community and the business’s sustainability. The panel will also consider the number of employees and the length of time the business has been in operation.

Lindley said the first award announcements are expected June 15.

“We wanted to recognize and support all that they do for our city,” Lindley said. “They contribute to the community and make a difference by creating jobs, being community hubs that bring people together, add character to the city and help create a thriving local economy.”

For more information, contact Lindley at 582-3100 or at [email protected].

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