Md. lawmakers say businesses along Purple Line need help

Maryland state Dels. Jheanelle Wilkins (left) and Lorig Charkoudian speak Monday outside Evita’s, a shop along the Purple Line route that’s unable to stay open due to the pandemic and suspended construction of the light-rail project. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Standing outside a business shuttered because of the pandemic and the Purple Line’s suspended construction, lawmakers gathered on a blustery Monday to highlight the plight of struggling businesses.

Lawmakers who represent the Purple Line corridor area urged Gov. Larry Hogan to assist businesses by releasing $2 million in grants.

And on Monday, a few businesses pleaded their cases.

“We are struggling really hard at this time” said Ganesh Gamir, owner of Red Chillies, an Indian restaurant on University Boulevard East in Takoma Park.

There have been days when his business, known for its curries and tandoori dishes, sat vacant.

“We didn’t have a single customer,” Gamir said.

Lene Tsegaye, who with her sister Abeba operates Kefa Café in Silver Spring, shared a similar story.

She said hers was not a small business, but a “micro-business,” and that they work seven days a week to keep it running. Without immediate help, she said, there is no way her business could survive.

Kayleigh Gunnoud, executive director of the Takoma Langley Crossroads Development Authority, said the two business owners are not alone. The CDA represents 170 small businesses and, “We desperately need help for our survival,” she said.

But Hogan’s communication director said the onus is on legislators, not the governor.

“The solution would be for legislators to pass the bill that creates this program, which they have been unable to do,” said Michael Ricci, adding “it’s tough to fund something without a mechanism to do it.”

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins said it was true: The bill didn’t pass the General Assembly before the session ended early because of the pandemic. House Bill 540 passed the House and Senate, but “needed to be read across the desk for it to be officially passed,” she said.

The governor’s office, Wilkins said, has created programs to assist businesses.

“They know how to do this,” she said. “We have a blueprint for him in legislation that he could simply refer to and implement.”

Regarding the idea that lawmakers hadn’t provided a mechanism to get funding to businesses that need it, Wilkins said, “That is just an excuse coming from the governor’s office.”

Businesses, she said, “cannot wait” for help to survive.

The Hogan administration recently announced a plan to use $250 million from the state’s rainy day fund to assist businesses hard-hit by the pandemic.

Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart said there’s a critical need to help businesses that are living with the now-stalled construction of the Purple Line.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” she said. “It calls for action right now to save these businesses.”

“Many people are struggling now,” Takoma City Council member Talisha Searcy said. “I can’t stress this enough, because I live here.”

She appealed to the governor to “make resources available to the businesses that are here.”

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich supported the legislation, which would have set aside $2 million in aid for businesses directly affected by the Purple Line construction.

“The money is there, but it’s not going out,” Elrich said.

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