‘Non-essential’ Clearwater business forced to close denied CARES Act help after being deemed ‘essential’

8 On Your Side

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — A “non-essential” Clearwater cabinet store closed up shop for two months to abide by county and state safer-at-home orders, only to be deemed “essential” when they were later denied for a CARES Act relief grant.

Dee’s Home Improvement Warehouse sells cabinets and vanities but doesn’t install them. It’s a gray area that owner Pat DeFalco says could end up costing him a lot of green.

DeFalco closed after he says Pinellas deputies told him the showroom was classified as non-essential retail under the safer-at-home order. For two months, he bit the bullet as his inventory collected dust.

“I thought I was doing my part,” he said. “I was told relief would be coming.”

Imagine DeFalco’s confusion then when he applied for a CARES Act small business grant of $5,000 through Pinellas County in June, only to be denied because the county said he was, in fact, an essential service.

DeFalco reached out to 8 On Your Side after receiving the rejection letter which stated, “Business is not an Eligible Business Type: Not eligible per Safer at Home Guide: Construction Companies and General and Specialty Contractors; Section 6 – Essential Services, critical services.”

DeFalco says had he been essential, he wouldn’t have had to close, meaning he wouldn’t have needed to apply for the grant.

“I just couldn’t believe that the same entity that’s telling me I am not essential, then later on telling me I am,” he said.

Pinellas County Economic Development, which reviews the applications and ultimately grants the CARES Act aid, has issued grants to more than 1,300 businesses out of 4,500 applications. More than $6.6 million has been granted so far.

DeFalco hopes they reconsider his denial because, after eight weeks out of business, that $5,000 grant would be nothing short of essential.

“If Pinellas cares, I hope they care about my case,” he said.

PCED is actively looking into DeFalco’s application for any errors or discrepancies, a spokesperson tells 8 On Your Side.

The applications for CARES Act small business grants are open through the end of June. To apply, click here. For criteria, click here.

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