Racine business denied Covid-19 relief over protest
RACINE (CBS 58) -- Owners of a small business in Racine say they were unfairly denied COVID-19 relief from the city because they participated in a rally protesting the state’s 'Safer at Home' order.
The specialty boutique, Dimple’s has been in downtown Racine for more than 20 years importing accessories and gifts from around the world to southeast Wisconsin.
The economic crisis has greatly impacted the business. The owners, married couple, Dimple and Denis Navratil applied for emergency assistance relief through the city, but were denied twice for the grants.
“We were all hurting and this is not something we asked for. This all happened to everybody, not just us,” said Dimple Navratil, co-cowner.
They called the city and were told they weren’t in compliance. “It had to do with the rally. Then it hit me it was because my husband had been through the rally".
Back in April, Denis took part in a protest in Madison against the state’s shutdown order.
“Portions of the stay at home order were unfair because businesses like Menards and Home Depot, liquor stores were able to open, and my only thought was small businesses like ours could provide just as a safe environment as those places,” he said.
In a statement, Racine Mayor Cory Mason said in part, “When it comes to disbursing discretionary funds aimed at helping businesses who were sacrificing to protect public health, the City is not going to reward business owners who took reckless behaviors that risked the health of our community.”
However, Denis says he took precautions at the rally by wearing a mask and distancing himself. “It’s outrageous. It’s a First Amendment right to assemble and speak. I did so safely as I described earlier, it’s outrageous and we’re gonna sue,” he said.
The Navratil’s are seeking the advice of legal counsel. Ultimately, they want the City of Racine to work together with small businesses.
Mayor Cory Mason released the following statement:
“The small business grants were given out through a competitive grant process. These were discretionary grants and no one was entitled to funding. Between the two rounds of grants, the City received 357 applications totaling almost $3 million in requests, and we had a total of $900,000 to give out, which went to 164 businesses. That means we had funding for less than half of all the applicants. Many great City businesses didn’t get funded because there were simply not enough funds to go around. However, if an applicant was in violation of laws or city ordinance, not conforming to zoning requirements, or hadn’t paid their taxes, that applicant was less competitive.
As Mayor, it is my duty to protect the public health of our City's residents. While I certainly support the rights of free speech and assembly, I cannot in good conscience send scarce City resources to a person or business that willingly jeopardized public health, especially when they were competing with other businesses who were not as flagrantly violating safety measures. If an applicant was openly violating the statewide "Safer at Home" order and the public health emergency under which the City was operating to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, that applicant would compete less favorably. For instance, participating in mass gatherings outside of our community, such as a rally with a thousand or more individuals at the State Capitol, only served to put City residents at unnecessary risk, and was certainly factored into the funding determinations. When it comes to disbursing discretionary funds aimed at helping businesses who were sacrificing to protect public health, the City is not going to reward business owners who took reckless behaviors that risked the health of our community.”