Over the past few years, downtown Bellingham has seen drastic changes – with many local businesses coming and going. While we’ve had to say goodbye to many longstanding and new businesses alike, there’s still plenty of local favorites on the rise. 

 “During the entire length of the pandemic, we’ve had more downtown businesses open than permanently close,” says Lindsey Payne Johnstone, program director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership. 

 Downtown Bellingham Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to the growth of downtown Bellingham, saw this time as the perfect opportunity to introduce a program that would promote community growth and give local businesses a much-needed helping hand. 

 The Storefront Improvement Grant (SIG) was originally developed in 2015 as the “Front Porch Program.” This competitive matching funds grant offers businesses the chance to receive funds in order to make exterior improvements such as paint upgrades, windows, planters, outdoor lighting, signage, and more.  

“SIG is particularly important right now because businesses need an extra boost wherever and however they can get it,”Johnstone says. “We felt it was extremely important to see this program through and market it more heavily as many businesses don’t have the extra funds for these impactful improvements during this time.” 

The grant cycle ran from June to December of 2021, raking in 18 business applications and awarding matching funds to three recipients: The Wild Buffalo, Make.Shift, and Sojourn.  

Jessyca Murphy, Executive Director at Make.Shift, said the grant was extremely helpful in making multiple long-awaited improvements including a “No Booze, No Drugs, No Jerks,” sign, a custom painted door, and a wheelchair-accessible threshold ramp. 

“These are improvements we’ve wanted to undertake for years and we were so thankful to the Downtown Bellingham Partnership for helping us to make our dreams come true,” Murphy says. 

Downtown Bellingham Partnership is planning to continue the grant in spring of 2022 in order to give recipients more time to implement improvements during the warm weather season.  

“We love delivering the news to grant recipients and witnessing the quick turnaround of these tangible improvements,” Johnstone says. 

Those interested in applying for the grant can visit the Downtown Bellingham Partnership website. Factors considered in the grant include current building/facade condition, impact on street design and neighboring businesses, creative value of the project, and community need for change.  

Recipients also receive a one-hour consultation with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership Design Committee as well as up to $2,000 in matching funds.  

114 W. Magnolia St., Ste. 504, Bellingham, 360.527.8710, downtownbellingham.com