City of Peoria awards nearly $1 million in grants to help small businesses

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — When the pandemic hit last year, a mother-daughter bakery duo had to rethink their entire business model.

Rachael Parker owns Sweet Cakes by Rachael and has baked custom cakes for the Peoria community for more than 20 years. The bakery is known for its award-winning key lime cupcakes, among other delicious novelties.

Her daughter, Riley Greenwood, is the owner of Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats, the first vegan bakery in Peoria, which opened three years ago.

But when the pandemic came, both businesses dried up, and they had to close.

“If you can imagine 100 weddings in a year, and then we get none…now, of course, that’s a completely different scenario that we’re in,” said Greenwood.

Thanks to a grant from Peoria’s Economic Development Department, they were able to reopen and tweak their business models to survive in the new normal.

“We went from the bakery being wide open, where anyone could come in, our bakery case was filled, we had multiple options every day. Now we’re open less days, we’re doing consistent curbside service,” said Greenwood.

No matter how small the order, Greenwood said delivery is available.

Greenwood said she is working on a vegan cake mix so customers can bake cakes at home. She is even looking to expand this summer with a coffee lounge.

The city of Peoria distributed $950,000 in grants to 57 local businesses to assist “with expenses related to the higher costs of doing business during the pandemic,” said Kevin Evans, Senior Economic Engagement Specialist for the city.

“Businesses have needs that are based on the realities that are going on within their business,” Evans said.

Iris Leverett, the owner of Seven Strands Hair Salon, said the grant allowed her to take care of her employees while growing her company. The salon opened in August 2020 and recently moved to a bigger space.

“It means so much to me to be able to do that, to help pay our payroll, to catch up on bills, to catch up on our rent, to even do some restocking,” said Leverett.

Evans said the city is still accepting applications on a first-come, first-serve basis, and approximately $200,000 in grants are available. Loans are also available and have a separate application process.

Business owners said it was an easy process and the city distributed the money quickly.

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