Royal Blue Grocery applied for a $350,000 grant and a $350,000 low-interest loan from the City of Dallas because its owners were savvy enough to know those funds were available.

When neighbors found out a couple of months ago that the grocer wants $700,000 from the city to open a store in Oak Cliff and improve its two Downtown stores, the backlash was fierce. Much frustration came from Oak Cliff small business owners who are getting by with no help from the city.

As it turns out, the City of Dallas Office of Economic Development has $1.7 million to help small businesses in northern Oak Cliff, but you had to be an insider to know.

“We have not done a great job marketing our tools,” economic development director Courtney Pogue told neighbors Thursday night.

Pogue and Royal Blue Grocery co-owner Zac Porter answered neighbors’ questions about the proposed subsidies for the boutique grocer. Many of the questions and answers were included here.

A few of things we didn’t already know:

  • Royal Blue Grocery started in Austin, but its three Dallas stores are separately owned by Dallas residents Porter, his wife, Emily, and their business partner Cullen Potts.
  • The company applied for these funds almost two years ago, in February 2018.
  • Since the original proposal, Royal Blue has agreed to pay employees $15 an hour plus tips, to make efforts to hire locally, to carry local brands, to mentor “food entrepreneurs” and to participate in the community, such as offering fundraisers for neighborhood schools.

The $350,000 economic development grant, which doesn’t have to be repaid as long as conditions are met, comes from the $1.05-billion bond package that voters approved in 2017. It included $54 million for economic development and housing grants. Of that, City Council District 1, which covers northern Oak Cliff, received $3 million. Of that, former City Councilman Scott Griggs set aside $1.3 million to help redevelop Wynnewood Village. That left $1.7 million that could be used for small business grants.

Zac and Emily Porter are both in the real estate business. She sells residential real estate, and he’s a commercial leasing agent. That experience gave them insider knowledge of the city’s economic development programs, and arguably, a lack of robust competition for the funds available.

The city and Councilman Chad West are working to correct that lack of information. For starters, the city will host a bilingual workshop on how to apply for small business grants and loans at noon on Jan. 30 at the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the Royal Blue proposal at its 3 p.m. meeting Jan. 8.