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Chamber of Commerce offers help to damaged businesses

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce raised $15,000 to help businesses in Gifford get back on their feet.
 CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce raised $15,000 to help businesses in Gifford get back on their feet. It received the first application today, but they're having trouble getting the word out. WCIA-3's Antony Antoine has more.

People weren't getting the chamber's emails because some of them didn't have walls, let alone a working computer. So the chamber wants business owners to know, there's help if they need it.

Laura Weis, President and CEO of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, says "Sadly when a disaster strikes, small businesses in particular, 40 percent of them never reopen. For a town the size of Gifford, we just can’t let that happen."

John Stalter is one small business owner who doesn’t want to become just another statistic.

"It’s quite a chore to keep these businesses open, whether they make any money or not."

Stalter owns two businesses in Gifford; both were damaged in the tornado. One of them is JJ's Homestead Tavern.

"Of course our Homestead sign for the tavern is completely gone. It's been kind of family-owned for 50 years so we're just trying to keep the lights on, and make sure we keep the town going as far as businesses."

He also had his own construction company. Now it's just debris, making it hard to run his business.

"If this happened to my business, what would I need how would I be able to recover?"

Members raised $15,000 jump-start the rebuilding process.

"We want to make it as easy as possible and really try to minimize the burden to try to access the funds."

So they did. It's a one-page application. Chamber board members want to know the extent of the damage and what owners will do with the money.

Stalter says "There’s a lot of things that’s just a loss or the insurance company won’t cover or don’t recognize."

Weis hopes this grant can help business owners like Stalter.

"We understand that insurance will cover a lot of things, but in the interim, we're going to have people that are going to have gaps."

Staler was unaware of the grant, but now, he says he will apply.

"We will find a place for that money or whatever comes."

Applications are available at the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce or at the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois.

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