The Albany County Legislature, in partnership with the Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region fast-tracked grants to 132 businesses impacted by COVID. The grants were awarded to small businesses all over the county, from every industry, from dining to retail. Here, business owners in Guilderland and Altamon share how COVID has hurt their businesses and how the grants will help them recover. (Unmasked photos were taken prior to COVID-19.)

Katherine Caristi
Katherine CaristiTugboat Tavern
Grant amount: $5,000 “As restaurant business goes, you see ups and downs, but nothing like what we’ve gone through since the COVID pandemic,” says Caristi. “Given the Covid guidelines, we are barely running at the 50% capacity mandate, our hours of operation have been limited, and we don’t see any of that changing in the near future. The sad part, if we lose our business, we also lose our home as we reside upstairs over the restaurant.” The Tugboat Tavern was established on June 7, 2007. It is a family owned, casual dining restaurant, and the owners pride themselves on the quality of our food, customer service, and the comfortableness/cleanliness of our establishment. “Now to tell you how much we appreciate being rewarded the grant. There are few words. It feels good to been given . . . a little breathing room, a little less stress today than yesterday, and a better outlook for our future. We are blessed, thank you.”

Trent Griffin-Braaf
Trent Griffin-BraafTech Valley Shuttle
Grant amount: $2,500 Trent Griffin-Braaf established his transportation business in 2016 as a hotel shuttle service, but it was clear from the start, that Griffin-Braaf’s goal was to be a connector. By 2017, they had evolved into a group transportation provider doing weddings, sports outings, wine & brewery tours etc. In 2018, they expanded their services again, adding community-based transportation services like their “Get-to-Work” and “Community prison shuttles” which take people to visit loved ones in jail. During COVID, Tech Valley Shuttle was deemed essential so they focused on the community and how they could assist. “We partnered with local hospitals and non-profit agencies and started food & pharmaceutical delivery for those who needed it most,” says Griffin-Braaf. “Today we are 100% committed to being a community-based transportation provider.” They have expanded services to include transportation for the homeless during Code Blue (extremely cold) nights, COVID vaccination transportation, youth transportation for work, school/daycare transportation, & disabled or handicapped transportation. They also have some upcoming projects to aid veterans, and those battling addictions. “It’s our goal to combat poverty by expanding transportation to those who need it most,” he says. “The grant funds mean a lot to us,” Griffin-Braaf says. “During the shutdowns we were forced to utilize high interest credit cards to help us survive. This grant was able to go towards paying off debt established during that phase of business.”

Lola Hodges
Lola HodgesCaprice Beauty Bar
Grant amount: $5,000. Lola Hodges says healthy skin has always been her top priority. Growing up in the countryside of Estonia, her grandmother instilled in her that a healthy lifestyle led to healthy skin. However, even the healthiest person’s skin changes as it ages. For the last 20 years, she has studied with some of the best professional aestheticians in New York, and brings that to her medspa in Cohoes. She said her new business was challenged by the pandemic. “It was extremely difficult to be told to shut down business in March. We are allowed to open again but due to mask wearing, traffic was very limited,” says Hodges. “I am so thankful to Albany County for this grant. It gives me even more reason to succeed and go on.”

Drew Rentz
Drew RentzThe Purple Pub
Grant amount: $3,000 The Purple Pub opened its doors April 15,1972 as a one-room bar with a jukebox, pool table and a limited menu of assorted sandwiches. After a lot of hard work and determination by brothers Bob & Greg Rentz and their parents, Libby & Charlie, the Purple Pub quickly turned into an award-winning local attraction, serving up homemade Italian dishes and piping hot pizza and wings (under the broiler, of course!). Over the years, the Purple Pub has become a local staple and the customers have become more like family, says Manager Drew Rentz, a third generation restauranteur. “Like most small businesses, we have seen our fair share of financial struggles throughout this pandemic,” says Rentz. The family had to reduce hours, close a dining room, eliminate items from the menu, and they’ve seen a huge dive in weekly revenue. “While we have struggled to cope with the financial aspect of COVID, the emotional downfall has been just as hard. Our livelihood for the past 49 years feels like it is at a standstill with very little light at the end of the tunnel,” says Rentz. “We miss our customers who have become more like friends and the happy, family-like atmosphere that the Pub has become to so many people. Receiving this grant has been a tremendous gift and gives us a little bit of hope to hold onto that better days are ahead!”

MK DiTursi, MD, PhD, FAAP
MK DiTursi, MD, PhD, FAAPHarmony Mills Pediatrics
Grant amount: $5,000 Harmony Mills Pediatrics opened in 2013 and is the only dedicated pediatric practice in the City of Cohoes. Its presence in a walkable neighborhood at the heart of the city makes it a vital part of the health and well-being of the children of Cohoes and surrounding communities. “The patients at Harmony Mills Pediatrics are a tightly woven, vibrantly diverse, and very high need population. Although most of the practice is Caucasian, non-Hispanic, and English speaking, we have groups of Russian, Polish, Chinese, and Afghani families as well. An internal survey in 2015 showed that 20% of our patients fit into interconnected, blood-related groups of ten patients or more, and that 12% of all our patients fit into one broad superfamily of children who are at least tertiary relatives. This does not even begin to address the intra-community links via godparent, foster parent, honorary parents, or people who just step up and let another’s child sit at their table for supper,” the practice website explains. The grant from the Community Loan Fund will begin to offset the increased costs of PPE and cleaning supplies due to COVID, allowing the practice to keep staff and patients safe so that they may continue to serve the children and families of Cohoes and the greater Capital Region.

The Albany County COVID-19 Grant program also assisted businesses in downtown Albany, Central Avenue and Colonie, Latham, Altamont, Guilderland, and Bethlehem and Slingerlands. More stories will be added as we get them!