Cafe is first recipient of Be A Neighbor Fund grant


UTICA — Local non-profit Handshake.City has announced the Cafe Domenico as the first recipient of the Be A Neighbor Fund, a fund to help struggling small businesses in the Greater Utica area. Cafe Domenico, 2011 Genesee St., will receive $3,000 a month over the next three months for $9,000 total.

The Be A Neighbor Fund was launched in February as a joint project with businesses Universal Bookkeeper, Made In Utica and McGrogan Design. The goal was to raise funds and distribute awards to locally-owned businesses who have had revenue compromised by COVID-19 restrictions. Businesses could apply or be nominated.

The Fund received 31 applications and 67 nominations. Fund awards are being distributed as monthly payments to provide reliable income through spring. “The idea is to make an impact and give the business some breathing room,” said Justin Miller of Universal Bookkeeper, who brought the idea for the Fund to Handshake.City.

Cafe Domenico was chosen as the first recipient based on factors such as financial need, longevity, community involvement and public nominations. Throughout the pandemic the Cafe was forced to limit operational hours and for four months, provide take-out only. In June the Cafe manager tested positive for COVID and was forced to close the doors for two weeks. Currently, Cafe Domenico is operating with limited seating but are still facing near 50% quarterly drops from years prior. Funding will go towards helping to pay basic business expenses such as back rent, utilities, insurance, supplies and employee wages, the announcement said.

One nominator for Cafe Domenico wrote, “Cafe Domenico has been a staple in the South Utica neighborhood for over 18 years... They have made folks feel welcome, provided them with a place to gather and relax as well as debate. This area needs more of this type of business within each street level neighborhood as an anchor to what being a good neighbor is about.”

Another nominator wrote that Cafe Domenico is “a key place for social engagement... and a great discovery for those just passing through Utica.”

Handshake.City plans to name a recipient each week for the month of March. The Be A Neighbor Fund is made possible solely through donations. Over $17,000 has been crowdfunded by individual donors and business contributions so far, and the fund is still accepting donations.

Be A Neighbor Fund is supported by AmeriCU Credit Union and other partners. For details or to make a donation visit


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