By: Cameron Morsberger
LOWELL — U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan met with U.S. Small Business Administration officials Wednesday to highlight millions in grant awards for struggling local businesses, venues and organizations.
The funding, totaling about $10.4 million across the 3rd Congressional District, is through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, a part of a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package passed during the pandemic that supports music and entertainment businesses impacted by quarantine measures and other restrictions.
Trahan and SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, along with other local representatives, gathered at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium’s Hall of Flags to discuss their support for the funding and how it will impact Lowell attractions.
Lowell Management Group, which manages the auditorium, received the largest portion of the funding at just over $4.4 million. It was one of many local recipients to receive supplemental Shuttered Venue Operators Grant funding beyond the initial award announced last year.
Trahan, who voted in favor of the relief package in 2020 and supported funding through the American Rescue Plan, said the auditorium was the perfect destination for the event. Having graduated from Lowell High School and attended a number of concerts and shows there, she said the venue symbolizes the many “milestones for our community” as the pandemic ends.
“We just saw folks setting up for their dance recital, last year they did it in a parking lot,” Trahan said in an interview. “It’s so important that people come back to their community with their friends and their families.”
Among the local businesses receiving help are Mill No. 5’s Luna Theater ($723,525), Merrimack Repertory Theatre ($544,686) and the Lowell Festival Foundation ($416,949), the last of which will host the highly anticipated Lowell Folk Festival for the first time in two years this July.
Kevin Dwyer, director and coordinator of the festival, said it was “a tremendous relief” to get that grant funding upon the festival’s return, and the program has been able to “sustain” as a result.
“With COVID going on, there was no way that we could host our events, and then we were in trouble, and we wanted to survive long enough to come out the other side of the pandemic and come back stronger than ever,” Dwyer said in an interview. “Having this grant program available to us was instrumental in us being able to do that.”
After acknowledgements and words of thanks from Trahan and Guzman, the pair, along with Mayor Sokhary Chau, state Reps. Vanna Howard and Rady Mom and others, briefly toured the auditorium as young dancers prepared for their performance.
Pete Lally, president of Lowell Management Group, introduced Guzman to the auditorium, where they discussed the uncertainty and difficulty in slowly opening amid the pandemic. Lally joked that he knows too much about air filtration systems as a result.
This was Guzman’s first stop in Lowell as she highlights the impact of federal dollars in the city. The more than $1.2 trillion of relief distributed by the SBA throughout the country “saved so many businesses,” Guzman said, and she has seen how many were able to adapt quickly and be resilient.
Guzman added that there was a “small business boom” last year in which Americans started 5.4 million businesses — 20% higher than any other year on record, she said. By creating jobs and building up the economy, entrepreneurs are an asset, Guzman said.
“We’ve really been celebrating the work that was done by the community, by Congresswoman Trahan as well, to make sure that over $10 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program went to the great performing arts venues that needed support during this time to survive,” Guzman said. “I’m seeing from small businesses that the relief was necessary to give them the stability to be able to help us continue to grow the economy and that they are seeing opportunities on the horizon.”
By investing in local arts programs, Chau said, neighboring restaurants, bars and other venues also benefit from increased revenue. Chau noted that one of the auditorium’s first in-person events post-COVID was the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions Finals back in March, which was economically pivotal to the city.
Chau’s 18-year-old son, Philip, who learned to play guitar via YouTube during the pandemic, has increased the family’s involvement in musical events across the city, Chau said, adding that music entertainment is an important feature of the city.
Coupled with that, Chau mentioned the large immigrant community that owns small businesses in Lowell that need support and how small financial support can help those small community staples “eventually flourish.”
“The immigrant community still has a lot of businesses that are considered mom-and-pop-owned … so small business is the backbone of the community,” Chau said. “It’s just great to have all those types of events, and I’m very proud that our city is able to do that, to have the possibility to bring people together but also to do well economically.”
Trahan said she is looking forward to the Folk Festival’s return and she, just like the rest of Lowell, is eager to engage with the city and its residents again.
“Everybody’s been dying to go back,” Trahan said. “I think in all corners of our city, we’re seeing the impact of the SVOG funding.”