Victor Gann, of Sanger, has been a musician his entire life. After his days of touring on the road concluded nearly two decades ago, Gann decided to hang up his hat and give teaching a shot.

Gann, owner of Evia Music Record Company & Music School, said his music lessons shop had taken off among the smaller communities prior to COVID-19, such as Krum, Gainesville and Sanger. But for Gann, whose storefront has been closed since late-March, the government mandated shutdown has resulted in concerns about solvency and the future of his business.

When he applied for the Denton County OPEN grant program on Wednesday though, his hope was to shore up the future.

“The grant would give us some needed space, wiggle room and time [to adjust],” Gann said. “I think we’ll be okay, but the rest of this year is going to be incredibly tough getting people back in the door and if we’re able to get this, it’ll be easier.”

The Denton County OPEN program, known as the “Operational Plan for Economic Normalization,” offers individual grants up to $10,000 for businesses that have been closed the longest and worst hit by COVID-19. The initial funding includes $2.2 million in non-taxpayer funds and applications opened Wednesday, May 13 and are open through Wednesday, May 20.

Unlike other grants or loans, Denton County Judge Andy Eads said that the county’s program is not first come, first serve.

“We do have a definite open and close, but it is not a first come first serve criteria, but we are anticipating a high call volume and are asking people to call the hotline that we set up and to reference our frequently asked questions,” Eads said.

County officials will look to assist businesses from a three-tiered approach, beginning with businesses that had to completely shut down, such as hair and beauty salons. The second tier focuses on commerce that has been affected by partial closures, he said, such as restaurants, while the third tier aims at assistance for those who did not close.

On Wednesday, 376 applications were submitted and 454 applications are still in progress, said Dawn Cobb, spokeswoman for Denton County. In total, she said phone call and email volumes Wednesday were 132 and 156, respectively.

To be eligible for grant funds, businesses must have 50 employees or fewer and no more than $7 million in gross annual revenue. In addition, businesses that have been completely closed can receive up to 100% of grant funds, while businesses that have been partially closed are eligible for 75%. As well, businesses must agree to audit the use of grant funds received.

Erica Pangburn, president of Denton Chamber of Commerce, said nearly 95% of member businesses have fewer than 50 employees total. Of those businesses, she said her conservative estimate was that over 50% businesses would be eligible.

For Gann, who plans to reopen on June 1, the reason behind waiting to reopen was to help taper anxieties surrounding the contagion of COVID-19. In the meantime, he and his other four instructors have taken up some online lessons, but overall revenue is down almost 92%.

While he also applied for and received funding from the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, he noted that many other music lesson shops with little demand in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex have since closed. Some of them, he said, have even anticipated that positive upticks in sales would not return until at least October. For Gann, that is worrisome.

Before the pandemic, his shop was operating at near capacity and he said instructor schedules were routinely booked. When he checked-in with customers to gauge responses about reopening, however, he said only 6% plan to return June 1.

“That shocked me,” he said. “I was not expecting that low of a number at all… what I am hoping and what I am assuming will happen as time goes on, especially if we are able to get additional grants, is that people will start slowly coming back.”

However, he said the problem surrounding the pandemic needs a long-term solution and that only 6% of his customer-base would not cover their rent.

With uncertainties about whether a second wave of cases will occur later this summer, or into the fall, Gann is at the mercy of containment, saying that additional setbacks would likely lead to permanently closing — something he shudders to think of.

“If that second wave does happen, which I am certain with anything there are going to be times that numbers are raised and lowered, but if that second wave does come around and they have to put restrictions back, then I will close,” he said.

RYAN HIGGS can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @ryanahiggs.

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