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Former Ann Arbor coffee shop Espresso Royale and boba shop Bubble Island both closed in April 2020 due to financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. David Lin, former owner of both of these Ann Arbor staples, has since dedicated his time to assisting other small businesses in the endless fight to remain open and continue to generate revenue amid changing COVID-19 restrictions. Lin’s fundraiser, the COVID Rescue Fund, holds the goal of helping to bring back 100 small businesses across the United States through community donations

On the fund’s website, visitors are able to vote for a small business they believe deserves financial assistance. Based on the amount of votes they receive and their current financial situations, businesses can be granted up to $100,000 to make up the revenue they have lost in the last 14 months. These grants are awarded monthly based on a variety of eligibility requirements, such as having fewer than three locations in 2019. 

From his own experiences with Bubble Island and Espresso Royale, Lin said he has a great deal of empathy for similarly struggling business owners. Lin said he knows first hand that entrepreneurs who have dedicated their lives to their establishments can be left empty-handed and emotionally distraught. 

“Most of these people have been hit so hard financially that they don’t have resources to go start a new business, and their credit might be so destroyed that no one will loan the money,” Lin said. “So the only outcome for most of these people is to go work minimum-wage jobs, and it’s just a huge mismatch of what their talents are, and I think that’s a huge tragedy.”

Businesses across the country, from dance studios to coffee shops, have applied for the potentially life-altering grant Lin is offering. Lin highlighted a Tae Kwon Do instructor from Texas who is on the brink of permanent closure of his studio. 

“(The instructor) has trained Olympians, he has trained U.S. national team members, his son was one of the coaches of the U.S. national team,” Lin said. “He’s been doing this his whole life, and his dojo is about to go out of business. We need to help people like that, who are excellent at what they do, get back to work so they can be productive and help society.”

One of the fund’s current featured applicants is Ann Arbor’s very own aUM Yoga, which formerly had studios on North University Avenue and South University Avenue. The owner, Jessie Lipkowitz, is a University of Michigan alum who is deeply invested in the Ann Arbor community. Lipkowitz said she hopes to receive a grant from the COVID Rescue Fund in order to continue to provide a space for improving health and wellness in Ann Arbor.

“I care wholeheartedly about the demographics that I work with and the communities that I serve,” Lipkowitz said. “I do a lot of community work through the yoga studio, and I hope that I’m given an opportunity so that I can continue the mission statement of this business.”

Since the government-mandated closing of workout studios in March 2020, Lipkowitz estimated she applied for about 200 different grants in an attempt to save her business. Unlike many other grants she has applied to, the COVID Rescue Fund helps businesses who have already had to close their doors rather than only those currently struggling to stay open. 

“They’re trying to help small businesses that have closed, so, of course, we had to relinquish our brick and mortar space and are currently trying to kind of figure out what that looks like moving forward,” Likowitz said. “A grant from the COVID Rescue Fund would enable me to find a new space and rehome aUM Yoga.”

Small businesses like aUM Yoga are a fundamental cornerstone of the vibrant Ann Arbor culture, impacting new generations of students and community members. The closing of establishments like Espresso Royale, Bubble Island and aUM Yoga has left a gaping hole in the fabric of the Ann Arbor atmosphere, community members have told The Michigan Daily.

The devastation of the pandemic on Ann Arbor’s small business scene has inspired many students to take a stand for the establishments who have suffered. In an interview with The Daily, Business junior Harika Kolluri explained how her business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, ran a fundraiser for Ann Arbor small businesses in March 2020. The fundraiser generated about $750 for small businesses frequented by University students. 

“It was honestly really hard to hear directly from them how badly their business had been affected by what is going on,” Kolluri said. “And I think with last semester, with a lot of people coming back to campus, I think they’ve been doing better, but like still not to a level of what they would do in a normal year.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Emily Blumberg can be reached at emilybl@umich.edu.