McALLEN — Liz Galaviz started ProSports Massage Clinic here four years ago, establishing one of the first sports massage clinics in the Rio Grande Valley.

The venture was a success. The business grew quickly over the years, treating amateur athletes at marathons and runs, and professional athletes that play for the RGV Vipers and the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros. Her team grew too, and the clinic employed 14 people.

“Every year is just better and better and better and better,” Galaviz said. “This year was going to be like so much better. We projected like 35% more than last year and I was just so excited.”

COVID-19 changed all that. The clinic closed for a full two months earlier in the pandemic and Galaviz recently closed the doors again in response to the dramatic spike in cases locally. It hurt financially, but despite the loss in revenue and the rocky road ahead to recovery, Galaviz remains confident. She says economic support that’s sprung up in the pandemic’s wake, particularly a grant program offered by the city of McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, has helped her keep her head above water.

“Definitely we took a hit because of the shutdown, but we’re going to survive it and we’re going to get better, and being part of the chamber…was a huge, huge help as well,” she said.

Galaviz said she received $10,000 from the first wave of grant funding, which became available last month.

“The grant actually was a huge blessing because it actually kicked in right after all the PPP funds had run out,” she said. “I was able to pay rent at my location and was able to get right with the bank as far as a loan I had taken on forbearance, but it was perfect timing and it was a huge blessing.”

According to Chamber President Steve Ahlenius, many of the 49 businesses who received grant money through the program’s first wave of funding reacted in a similar way. That demand even prompted the city to approve a second round of funding in the amount of $1.2 million that the chamber began distributing in late June.

“The response for the first round of McAllen COVID-19 Small Business grants has been huge,” Ahlenius wrote. “The number of small businesses seeking assistance through the grant speaks to the scope and depth of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The grant funds are specifically designed to help small businesses get through the day-to-day expenses of the pandemic, expenses that include rent and utilities, a shift toward online sales and the purchase of inventory and supplies. Mayor Jim Darling, who’s previously expressed concern over seeing swaths of McAllen’s business community close permanently because of the pandemic, says keeping those locally owned stores and restaurants afloat financially is essential.

“Small businesses are the foundation of McAllen’s economic success. The City Commission and I wanted to provide assistance to McAllen’s small businesses in a quick and easy process to help businesses to reopen, hire employees and reignite our local economy,” Darling wrote.

For the last 27 years, Las Rocas Restaurant in downtown McAllen has been one of those mom-and-pop operations that Darling says make up the bedrock of the city’s economy.

David Gonzalez, owner, picks out a bag of chips to go with an order at Las Rocas restaurant on Friday in McAllen. The business received a grant from the McAllen Chamber of Commerce to help it stay afloat following a forced closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

David Gonzalez said that over the years the Mexican restaurant has seen second- and even third-generation customers come through its doors.

When the pandemic hit, Gonzalez saw several of his neighbors close shop permanently.

“It is scary,” he said.

Like Galaviz, Gonzalez applied for the first round of funding and was approved.

“It’s very important,” he said. “I mean, that money helps to keep my staff, everyone on board. It gives me the flexibility to install those safety features, not only for my employees but for the customers.”

After the paperwork was settled, Las Rocas used the funds to pay for some of its utility expenses. Gonzalez says the funds were also used for smaller hygienic purchases necessitated by the pandemic, things like hand sanitizer and plastic dividers, which he says can be a surprisingly difficult expense to account for given the decline in business.

“It’s difficult to ask a business that’s already struggling to try to put those safety features in,” he said.

Ultimately, Gonzalez remains confident. Las Rocas is part of the community, and as the grant indicated, the community is interested in keeping it that way.

“It gives you hope and it gives you a sense of security,” he said. “It’s the community that’s kind of helped us stay here for so long.”

Last Wednesday, Gonzalez showed Las Rocas’ appreciation for the grant money in the best way he knew how: by dropping off lunch at the chamber offices.

More information on the chamber and its pandemic relief efforts is available at https://mcallen.org