DC small businesses emerge from COVID with help from nonprofits and Wells Fargo

This content is sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Sandra Foote, owner of Flip it LJ Diner, a small restaurant in Northwest D.C., wasn’t sure her business would survive the pandemic.

Foote started the diner nine years ago with her husband, who has since passed away. Her business tanked during the height of the pandemic, leaving her unsure how she could move forward.

Luckily, a forgivable grant from nonprofit lender LISC DC, backed by Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, helped her pay rent and keep her staff on payroll.

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

Wells Fargo launched the Open for Business Fund in July 2020. It is a roughly $420 million small business recovery effort that works with small business-focused nonprofits, Community Development Financial Institutions and other community groups to support racially and ethnically diverse small business owners and other entrepreneurs impacted by the pandemic.

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, “We need to help them now so they’ll be there later.”

A second local success story is  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, with support from the Open for Business Fund.

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.”

‘Open for Business’ continues to flourish

The Open for Business Fund has continued to extend grants to nonprofits and CDFIs in the District.

Just recently, Wells Fargo announced that it selected City First Enterprises, ECDC Enterprise Development Group, Latino Economic Development Center, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington Area Community Investment Fund to join Local Initiatives Support Corporation D.C. to receive grants from the fund.

That brings about $10 million in additional money 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.

For example, LISC DC deployed a combination of zero-interest loans ranging $15,000 to $150,000 and grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 to help small businesses that may be struggling to pay bills due to lower profit margins and higher expenses as a result of the pandemic.

Nationwide, the Open for Business Fund is expected to translate into roughly $1 billion in available financing, 7.5 million hours of technical assistance, and importantly, through May 31, the effort is already helping preserve a projected 90,000 jobs.

Learn more about how small businesses are making a way through the pandemic with help from Wells Fargo.

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