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Slotkin, SBA Administrator visit Howell Small Businesses

Isabel Casillas Guzman, the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), joined Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin in touring several small businesses in downtown Howell.

In 2018, the City of Howell was recognized nationally as one of three winners of the Great American Main Street Award. While not necessarily unscathed, the city’s small businesses have more or less withstood the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In conversation with GIGO News, Representative Slotkin stated that Downtown Howell was a prime example of “local businesses that weathered Covid; that either got some of the SBA products or survived on the good graces of the community.”

SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman, Representative Elissa Slotkin, and Tyler DePerro of the Historic Howell Theater

The Historic Howell Theater is an anchor business– one that increases traffic flow to the area and therefore bolsters the local economy. Ideally, as people are drawn to events at the Historic Howell Theater, they’ll be prompted to explore the restaurants, shops, and businesses throughout the downtown area.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Tyler DePerro specifically set out to find a “walkable downtown with a theater space” where he could bring his love of cinema to a community level. As a result, the Historic Howell Theater has become a unique fixture in the downtown landscape, serving as a community gathering place for concerts, fundraisers, private parties, church services, and events. 

The theater was a recipient of a Shuttered Venue Operator Grant– an SBA grant specific to live performance venues, performing arts organizations, museums, and movie theaters. Over $16 billion in grants have been distributed nationwide to alleviate the economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.  

Congresswoman Slotkin noted that Livingston County was unique in regard to the extreme variation of responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The community division over masks and mandates was a significant challenge for local business owners, who were suddenly faced with constantly changing guidelines and the backlash that accompanied them. She noted that all too frequently the typical stressors of the entrepreneurial world were compounded with the “extra stress for business owners who had become flashpoints in a culture war.”

“Not enough credit is given to places where there was a culture war over masks,” Slotkin explained. She went on to commend DePerro’s steady-handed and level-headed approach to business during this period of unprecedented crisis. 

Dragonfly Emporium was designed to be more than just a gift shop or home decor shop. Kelly Lyczkowski and her family strive to provide customers with  “a magical experience, whimsical gifts, and unique treasures.” The family-owned and operated store boasts an impressive amount of eclectic items, ranging from seasonal decor to custom floral designs and arrangements. With a degree in Retail Marketing and Floriculture from Michigan State University, bouquets and flowers in particular are one of Lyczkowski’s passions.

The store had only been open for 18 months when the COVID-19 Pandemic temporarily halted in-person shopping. The business transitioned to online sales and curbside pick-up during this time, which proved challenging due to the complexities of cataloging all products on a virtual platform. 

Slotkin, Guzman, and Kelly Lyczkowski

Kelly Lyczkowski, owner and operator of Dragonfly Emporium, explained that while this was a challenging period for the business, the community has been remarkably supportive.

Lyczkowski recalled giving out soaps as a way to encourage people to wash their hands early in the pandemic. Due to the isolating and anxiety-inducing nature of the pandemic, she found that customers sought “items that brought them comfort”, particularly candles. And as the world slowly reopened, she added that many customers were eager to revamp their homes after being in lockdown. 

“The process–from operating at 20% capacity to measuring the floor for social distancing to where we are now– was horrifying at times,” Lyczkowski shared. “But we made it because people made an effort to support small business.” =

“Our main streets are the lifeblood of so many communities, drawing people together,” said Administrator Guzman. “The businesses here have unique challenges, and we want to make sure that the SBA is able to support them.”

In a political sense, it can be all too easy for constituents and elected officials alike to get lost in the trappings and technicalities of federal grants, loans, and finances. Thus why it is all the more critical to– as Representative Slotkin points out– focus on “what these programs did for real people in real communities.”

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