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Southwest Michigan Venue Operators Frustrated With Federal Grant Program


In December 2020, the federal government created the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) to help small businesses that had to shut down due to COVID-19. Now, some southwest Michigan venues are frustrated with the program.

SVOG funding was allocated back in January, but Michigan Radio reports it took until the beginning of June for any Michigan businesses to receive approval. 


As of June 28, 60 businesses have been approved, including The Acorn performance venue in Three Oaks, Michigan.


Laura Jolly was The Acorn’s interim director for most of the pandemic. She said with other grants and donations, the venue was able to stay afloat from January to June – but the wait was frustrating. 


“We were waiting and waiting, and meanwhile – no doubt – other places had to close or not pay bills,” Jolly said. “That was tough.”


She said the grant application site crashed almost immediately when it opened in April, and took weeks to repair.


Jolly said The Acorn got its grant on June 25. But Judy Scully, who owns the Vickers Theatre in Three Oaks, said she has yet to see any money. 


She said she keeps getting notices about missing forms she needs to submit, even though her application was approved June 6.


“At one point, ‘Oh my god, this is fine, you’re getting it.’ At the next point, they’re asking for all these things that you have submitted way back when,” Scully said. “So it’s been frustrating, honestly, very frustrating.”


Scully said she can keep the Vickers afloat in the meantime, but she needs the grant to pay back expenses – like maintenance costs and HVAC improvements – and to rehire staff as the theatre gets busier.


“As we’re getting better, everything is increasing in cost, so you have more costs for supplies and all of those kinds of things,” she said. “So the shuttered grant will just be a savior for us.”


Jolly says The Acorn also has back expenses, namely for rent and the revenue lost after being closed for a year. 


“You don’t have programming expenses because you have no programming. So that’s zero, but you still have staff expenses,” she said. “This is just helping us recover revenue that we lost for the past 16 months.”


According to federal data, The Acorn was awarded a total of nearly $341,100, while the Vickers Theatre will receive just over $156,500. The Strand Theatre in Sturgis, Michigan, was also approved for a grant of $175,713.


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.