When COVID-19 ramped up in New York in March, it hit BCNA clients particularly hard, not unlike the “freight train” Governor Cuomo warned us was coming. Most of our clients are small- or micro- businesses owners with minimal safety nets who had to either shut down or faced a rapidly dwindling number of clients and customers from their communities. And many of our clients live in densely-populated neighborhoods like Corona, Jackson Heights, and the Bronx – areas that were the epicenters of the pandemic – and they themselves, and their family members, became ill. That’s why we immediately kicked into overdrive to create emergency loan funds for our loan clients and emergency grants for our hardest hit refugee clients.
And that is also why we are extremely grateful to the team at Wells Fargo’s Diverse Community Capital (DCC) Program, who reached out to us in April, as the pandemic raged, to find out how they could be helpful.
After reviewing our micro- and small- business clients’ often dire circumstances, they very generously awarded BCNA a $343,000 grant to support BCNA as we supported our clients through relief and recovery programs.
We have used a portion of this generous grant to leverage a larger low-cost loan of $1.25MM that we have been using to fund emergency loans ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to minority and women owned businesses. This includes clients like Noor African American Market in the Bronx, which sells halal meat and groceries, and which has now been stocking up on PPE and cleaning products for its customers during these long 5 months. Another business providing critical services that needed financing to meet the higher demand was Eshika Printers and Sign Inc. in Queens, which specializes in signboard and banners for events and small businesses. Recognizing a COVID-driven need for neighboring small businesses, Eshika quickly pivoted to start producing plexiglass and plastic barriers which are in high demand to protect the spread of the virus at restaurants and other businesses.
Another loan went to Roxane Mollicchi of The Wandering Barman, to support their production and distribution of bottled handcrafted cocktails from their production facility in Brooklyn..
This visionary owners of this small company believe that batching is the future of bar and service management, not only because it means that customers don’t have to wait for complicated cocktails, but because it leads to smarter, more sanitary, more sustainable practices, with quality ingredients and less waste.
We were also delighted to continue to work with Mariame Keita, one of our BCNA Voices speakers, who owns and operates Keita West African Market in Brooklyn which specializes in imported food products. Because of the great demand, she too has expanded her inventory to carry cleaning and PPE products.
We have been grateful to be a Wells Fargo’s DCC program Grantee since 2017, when that program made the first private investment – of $500,000 – in our loan funds. This was an exciting and significant moment for BCNA; previously our loan funds had been financed exclusively by loans and grants from government agencies such as the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the CDFI Fund at the Department of the Treasury. Since then, we have received a number of grants from Wells Fargo’s DCC program and have also benefitted from being part of a knowledge-sharing peer network with other grantees.
We thank them for their sensitive and generous support during this critical period, and look forward to continuing to partner with the DCC program as our recovery begins and New York’s small business entrepreneurs can thrive once more.