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Devaries Dillard can already envision his new storefront sign: A simple black layout emblazoned with “Big Cutz Barbershop” and a phone number for the Central Avenue business in Columbia Heights. Then, in fine font: “For the well-groomed gentleman.”

As a small-business owner, Dillard said it can be tough to come up with extra money for projects like new signage. A solution appeared in his mailbox this summer, informing him about a new Columbia Heights facade improvement grant program that offers a financial boost to businesses along Central looking to spruce up their storefronts.

“It just kind of fell out of the sky,” said Dillard, who owns the barbershop at 4020 Central Av. “I already had the design and just needed the funds to get it rolling.”

Eight businesses are getting city help to breathe new life into their shop facades in the coming months as part of an effort to give some shine to Central Avenue, which city officials describe as the busy gateway into Columbia Heights.

“It’s our main commercial corridor,” said Keith Dahl, community development manager. “You have a lot of people traveling on Central daily.”

Dahl said the program may expand next year and has already attracted interest beyond Columbia Heights, with business owners in neighboring cities calling to inquire if they would be eligible should they relocate to the inner-ring suburb.

City leaders envision the suburb’s main drag as an up-and-coming area that feeds off the energy in nearby northeast Minneapolis. They say more vibrant storefronts may entice outsiders to stay awhile and explore.

“We’re trying to improve the perception of Columbia Heights and allow people the opportunity to rediscover the Heights,” Dahl said.

Planned projects for this year range in cost from about $1,000 to $30,000. The city will reimburse property owners for up to half their eligible project costs, with a $5,000 maximum reimbursement.

Dillard expects his barbershop sign work to cost about $1,600.

A few doors down, Warren Kapsner is busy dreaming up new exterior paint colors for his printing business, Rapid Graphics & Mailing.

When Kapsner learned of the grant program, he told his landlord, who then applied.

“It was a good motivator,” said Jerry Greene of Highland Management Group, which leases the building to Rapid Graphics.

In an effort to cut crime along the busy thoroughfare, police and city officials have also selected certain applicants for new surveillance systems and cameras under the grant.

Rapids Graphics is one of the businesses getting cameras, according to the city.

The city also expects to pitch in $5,000 toward about $30,000 of planned work at the printing business. That includes new exterior paint and swapping out the big single-pane front windows with double-pane.

“It’s going to be a completely new look,” Kapsner said. “It’ll make it look like a nice attractive building again.”