Emerging stronger will take more loans and grants for DC small businesses

This content is sponsored by Wells Fargo.

The resiliency of millions of small businesses across the U.S. has been deeply tested as the pandemic lingers. With a focus on keeping small businesses open, Wells Fargo continues to provide access to vital capital and resources needed to weather the financial strain on entrepreneurs.

“The PPP loans breathed life into us,” said Suha Kaidbey, owner of the floral shop Le Printemps in Northwest D.C.

While business revenue at the shop dropped about 50% during the pandemic, Kaidbey found a lifeline as she applied for and received both rounds of PPP loans from Wells Fargo.

Le Printemps used the loans for payroll and to pay bills.

“I’m thankful every day,” Kaidbey said. “I wake up and say, ‘Thank you Wells Fargo.’ Otherwise, a shop like this would’ve been closed a long time ago.”

‘Open for Business’ mindset leads to success

But the company knew one avenue of support was not going to be enough to drive inclusive economic recovery. Wells Fargo has been expanding its Open for Business Fund, an initiative that focuses on long-term resiliency programs for small businesses, including racially and ethnically diverse business owners who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Through the fund, Wells Fargo donated roughly $420 million to nonprofits and Community Development Financial Institutions nationwide.

Community Development Financial Institutions, also called CDFIs, are nonprofit lenders that help business owners access funding that they might otherwise be unable to qualify for using traditional banking options.

In utilizing CDFIs, businesses can obtain emergency grants and low-cost loans along with coaching and training to help revamp their business models.

“So many of our small businesses aren’t just shops and services; they’re reservoirs of wisdom and accumulated expertise,” said Ramon Jacobson, executive director of LISC DC, a non-profit CDFI that supports small businesses in the nation’s capital. “We need to help them now so they’ll be there later.”

Flip it LJ Diner, a small restaurant in Northwest D.C., was among the companies that secured a grant through LISC that did not need to be repaid.

“This has been very emotional for all of us,” said the diner’s owner Sandra Foote.

Foote started the business nine years ago with her husband, who has since passed away.

As she works to emerge from the pandemic, the grant money has helped Foote stay afloat while providing fresh hope and motivation for her and her staff.

“Once I paid the rent, I knew that help was coming and that I could keep my business,” Foote said. “This is something I am very thankful for, and I feel very lucky.”

A similar success story came at JC Lofton Tailors on U Street in Northwest D.C. where the company’s owner, Eddie Lofton, applied for and received a $10,000 LISC grant last year.

Lofton is a longtime tailor whose grandfather was the first African American to own a tailoring shop and tailoring school in the District.

“That $10,000 really helped me out,” Lofton said. “I’ll forever be grateful,” adding that the money would allow him to continue his grandfather’s legacy.

“My grandfather was a pillar in the community,” he said. “JC Lofton will be around for the next 100 years because we’re going to make sure we keep it going.”

Making a way to stay open

The Open for Business Fund has continued to grow.

Wells Fargo has provided grants to City First Enterprises, ECDC Enterprise Development Group, Latino Economic Development Center, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington Area Community Investment Fund and Local Initiatives Support Corporation D.C. since the fund started just over a year ago.

This effort contributed about $10 million to D.C. to help underserved small businesses stay open and preserve jobs.

In addition to existing small business support, the CDFIs will develop and expand programs aimed to address systemic issues and unique challenges faced by diverse entrepreneurs. It will be critical to make resources available to entrepreneurs on an ongoing basis given the duration of this pandemic.

Through August, the Open for Business Fund is enabling nonprofits to reach a projected 124,000 small businesses nationwide, including in the District.

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