Just three weeks after moving to a new location, JNJ Gifts and More is already making its mark.

The shop hosted the kick-off to Dane Buy Local’s ‘Independents Week’ June 25, celebrating fellow locally-owned businesses along with Dane County executive Joe Parisi, mayor Luke Diaz and executive director of Dane Buy Local Colin Murray.

The three men spoke at a press conference on June 25 outside JNJ Gifts and More, joined by its owner Jerina Vincent.

The store, formerly known as JNJ Craftworks, opened at 201 E. Verona Ave. on Saturday, June 5, after relocating from its North Edge Trail location.

At the kick-off event, Dane Buy Local declared that ‘Independents Week’ is set from June 25 to July 4 to encourage the public to buy local and support community businesses. The event is an expansion of Small Business Saturday, Murray said at the event.

Murray also provided an update on the Dane County Small Business Pandemic Support Grant program recovery effort, which has received over 3,000 applications and $59,447,075 in requested funds, according to a June 25 Dane Buy Local news release.

Small businesses include professional services like accountants, financial institutions and attorneys, as well as nonprofits like Badger Prairie Needs Network, Murray said at the kick-off press conference.

There are around 100 nonprofit organizations that are members of Dane Buy Local, he said.

Independents Week was planned in conjunction with the American Independent Business Alliance, the release states.

“Our local businesses make Dane County distinctive, different from anywhere else in the country,” Murray said in the news release. “Independents Week is an opportunity to celebrate the hardworking local entrepreneurs in Madison, Dane County, and all of South Central Wisconsin.”

As of June 25, Dane County had invested over $29 million into its Small Business Pandemic Support Grant Program to help Dane County small businesses pull-through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was initially launched in April 2020 by Dane Buy Local, prior to passage of the first federal government COVID-19 rescue plan known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act.

At the time of its launch, it was one of the first local-government-run small business grant rescue programs in the entire country, according to the news release.

The third round of the grants will disburse a total of $15 million, coming from Dane County’s portion of American Rescue Plan funding.

Over 3,000 applications had been received as of June 25, totaling $59,447,075 in requested support funding, according to the news release.

There have been 612 grants approved as of June 25, totaling over $4.9 million dollars disbursed, with the average grant allotment totaling $8,087.

Over 26% of all grants have gone to underserved community members in Dane County, the release states.

“Dane Buy Local has been an incredible partner to our small business community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we thank them for their continued partnership in distributing Dane County’s Small Business Pandemic Support grants,” Parisi said in the release. “As we gear up for July 4, let’s consider the ways in which we can continue to show support for our small businesses and local entrepreneurs.”

Parisi noted the importance of local businesses includes supporting community organizations such as by sponsoring little league teams, or donating to nonprofit events.

“Those dollars stay in your community rather than shipped out,” he said. “They are always here for us, we look forward to being there for them.”

Dane Buy Local is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance. It works to support independent businesses by “working to create a sustainable, vital local economy through education, collaboration, and promotion,” the release states.

For consumers across the county who wonder how to know what truly makes a business ‘local,’ all Dane Buy Local members are carefully vetted, Murray said.

“Our small businesses and nonprofits were tested like never before, we saw in a new light just how important small businesses are,” Murray said. “We celebrate them, large and small, because they exemplify the depth, diversity, and economic impact that local businesses have in South Central Wisconsin.”

“One of the most important things today is to recognize that for them, the pandemic isn’t over, they still need our help and support — buy local, think local first,” he added.

Neal Patten can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.

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