Pam Mardirosian, left, brings customer Katie Huber, from Ballwin, an item she forgot inside Crown Candy Kitchen in St. Louis as Huber picks up a to-go order on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. "We're going to try and go somewhere everyday to support these local business owners." said Huber. Restaurants and bars in St. Louis have been ordered close their dining rooms and restrict service to carry-out service for food. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Two of the region’s main economic development organizations have launched an emergency zero-interest loan fund to help small businesses paying the bills while the new coronavirus all but shuts down the economy.

For-profit businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County can apply for two-year loans of up to $5,000 for working capital, repaying it in installments of $50 over the first six months and the remaining principal due over another 18 months.

“This program is a start of our efforts to assist businesses in connecting with and leveraging other resources,” said Rodney Crim, president and CEO of the Clayton-based St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

The Partnership contributed $350,000 to the fund, and the St. Louis Development Corporation in the city gave $400,000. SLDC chief Otis Williams said the organizations are in discussions with private businesses and foundations about adding more to the fund.

“We’re talking to banks to see whether or not they’ll add to it,” Williams said. “We did the same thing during Ferguson, when there were issues on South Grand (Boulevard). We’re just trying to replicate that.”

Crim last week told the St. Louis County Port Authority, which collects at least $4 million a year in payments from casinos and has over $10 million in the bank, that the Partnership and SLDC plan to make a formal request for funds to bolster the emergency loan fund. A special meeting to consider the request could be called as soon as next week.

Getting a loan fund up and running fast makes it more likely that others will want to contribute to an already-operating program. Businesses and foundations interested in donating can also visit https://stlpartnership.com/grow-your-business or call a new hotline at 314-615-1777, or email BIZHELP@stlpartnership.com.

“I implore other businesses and foundations to contact the organization to leverage our collective assets and resources in this time of crisis,” said St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who last week asked the Partnership, Port Authority and other agencies to begin doing whatever they could to blunt the economic fallout of the pandemic.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson called on the region to support local businesses. “The city and county are working together as one to support our small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy — and the heart of our neighborhoods,” she said.

In a separate program for downtown businesses, the St. Louis Downtown Community Improvement District has launched a grant program offering up to $5,000 for local companies. The grants are being administered through the St. Louis Community Foundation’s Gateway Resilience Fund, which is providing cash assistance to out-of-work service workers and owners of independent bars and restaurants.

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