Four small business owners share how they weathered the pandemic

Ninety-nine percent of American businesses are small, and they account for 50% of the nation’s jobs. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, bringing them to life and giving them character. At the start of 2020, the economy was strong and these businesses were thriving.

No one could have predicted that their fortunes would change overnight when the COVID-19 pandemic came to America’s doorstep in March 2020. Business owners had to scramble in the face of lockdowns, employees who had fear of returning to work and clients who were reluctant to leave home.

It finally feels like the pandemic is turning a corner, as are four small businesses that have endured nearly two years of uncertainty and emerged even stronger. These throwback stories show the hearts of small business owners nationwide.


via Wells Fargo

JC Lofton Tailors in Washington, D.C. is part of a family tradition that began in the late 1930s. It is owned by Julius “Eddie” Lofton, whose late grandfather was the first African American to own a workshop. sewing and a sewing school in the district.

Lofton and his experienced team of tailors have a reputation for making everyone in DC look sharper, from politicians to celebrities to students at nearby Howard University. But when COVID-19 hit, the need to accommodate disappeared as people started working from home and in-person events were halted. Even though demand was down, he still had to pay his rent and his employees. He focused on making masks to keep people healthy during the crisis.

He also worked hard to maintain a positive attitude during slow times to maintain the morale of his employees. The man who has sewing in his blood has also embraced technology by developing a new social media strategy to attract new customers.

A $10,000 grant from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business fund through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation has given Lofton some breathing room to meet its bills. Today, he has rehired almost all of his staff and his clientele is growing day by day.

Six hundred and twenty-six miles south of Lofton’s boutique is the Grant Park Coffeehouse in downtown Atlanta. It’s a place where locals can come and enjoy a fair trade certified organic cup of joe or more adventurous dishes like Nutella Mocha or S’mores Latte. At lunchtime, the place is famous for its wonderful chicken salad.


Atlanta Coffee Navigates the Pandemic with the Wells Fargo Open for Business Fund

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Rahel TafarI is the meticulous and hardworking cafe owner who was inspired to open her business by her Ethiopian mother. When the pandemic hit, the number of people in downtown Atlanta dwindled and the lack of foot traffic significantly hurt the cafe’s finances. As the pandemic progressed, Tarfarl felt she had no options to keep her business alive, but never stopped coming back to work. “During the height of the COVID pandemic, I did everything I could, trying to find ways to support ourselves. Trying to find loans, grants or whatever. C was very hard” she says.

One of the ways she kept her business afloat was to become even more self-sufficient. “I started making some products myself because the supply chain was creating challenges – chocolate sauce, lavender sauce, our own chai,” she said.

TafarI was able to secure a $250,000 working capital loan through Wells Fargo’s Open for Business fund from grantee Access to Capital from Entrepreneurs, and it helped her keep the cafe open. “It was a lifeline to help us weather the storm,” TafarI said.

Ellen Bryant-Brown and volunteers through Wells Fargovia Wells Fargo

Ellen Bryant-Brown, owner of the Hope Rising Child Learning Center in Philadelphia, is another female business owner who has faced challenges during the pandemic.

Hope Rising offers early learning and education programs for children 3 months to 12 years old. When COVID-19 hit, nearly every student on Hope Rising’s 52nd Street left because parents were out of work and schools were closed. Enrollment at the center has fallen from 131 children to just 3.

“Faith gives birth to hope” said Bryant-Brown. “It’s taken a lot of firsts to get to these last two years.”

Bryant-Brown gained support during lean days through Wells Fargo and The Enterprise Center who donated a large collection of books as well as a $15,000 grant to the center. She also received additional grants from the two to support her business totaling $20,000.

As for the 52nd Street corridor, support has also arrived there. Launched by Wells Fargo, Hope, USA, a nationwide initiative to improve small business neighborhoods in 16 cities nationwide sent 50 merchants – all of whom were minority entrepreneurs – to the area to repair damaged stores. They painted 12 storefronts, pressure-washed sidewalks, installed new exterior lighting, removed trash, improved landscaping, and added new signage and awnings.

Hope Rising has seen a resurgence in recent months, with registrations rising to around 82 children.

Martín D. Vargas, Jose Beteta and Tamil Maldonado Vega of Raices Brewing Company

Much like Rahel TafarI and Julius “Eddie” Lofton, Jose Beteta has also had to get creative to keep his business open during the pandemic.

Beteta opened Raíces Brewing Co., a craft brewery in Denver, Colorado in 2019 with the help of a loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) (7a) through Wells Fargo. “We went to different financial institutions, where they just made that barrier much bigger and much higher. So it was creating an impossible dream for us, until we got to Wells Fargo and they opened the doors for us.

The brewery is a welcome addition to the world of craft brewing where people of color are underrepresented. “After research, I learned that less than 1% of the 8,000 craft breweries in the United States are owned by people of color – only 0.5% in fact. It represented this huge gap in the market,” he said.

COVID-19 hit shortly after the brewery opened, but Raíces was able to pull through by switching to an online ordering platform and curbside pickup.

Raíces means “roots” in Spanish, and Beteta’s business was able to find new ways to operate during difficult times because it was firmly rooted in the community.

“We talk about community, culture and cervezas,” he said.

There are many lessons to be learned from the pandemic, but one of the most powerful is the resilience of small business owners in the face of strong headwinds. It also helps when they can get the support they need.

“Wells Fargo is working to support as many small businesses as possible as they continue on their path to recovery and a brighter future,” said Derek Ellington, head of small business banking at Wells Fargo. “Beyond providing much-needed capital, the Open for Business Fund also enables small businesses to benefit from technical assistance and long-term resilience programs.

The Fund has helped nearly 152,000 small business owners and protected more than 250,000 jobs.

JC Lofton Tailors in Washington, D.C. via Wells Fargo

Now that the scorching days of 2020 and 2021 are behind us, business is picking up again at JC Lofton Tailors in Washington, D.C. “I know…this pandemic has brought challenges, but it gives me great pleasure to keep my grandfather’s shop open and thriving,” he told Upworthy.

The pandemic has taught Lofton to plan for the unexpected. “It’s important to try to have a savings account for the future – to make sure that if something like this were to happen again, things would be manageable,” he said. But the future looks bright as Lofton plans to open a second store next year.

Rahel TafarI of Grant Park Coffeehousevia Wells Fargo

As business returns to downtown Atlanta, customer numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels at the Grant Park Coffeehouse and the business has grown.

“We were able to open a second location during this pandemic because we never closed a day. We have decided to stay open and continue to serve the community – police officers and medical personnel. I kept coming to work – sometimes alone – I spent the nights at work to make sure we could get through,” TafarI told Upworthy.

The pandemic has been difficult, but it has taught TafarI valuable lessons, such as becoming more self-sufficient when the supply chain hits a snag. On a deeper level, she learned something about herself. “We are loved, needed, resilient and creative in so many ways,” she said.

Registration has resumed at the Hope Rising Center and most employees have returned to work. The center was able to buy two school buses and offer bonuses to its employees thanks to the support it received from Wells Fargo. Bryant-Brown has learned that she must be “prepared for disaster at any time” now that she has weathered the pandemic.

Raices Brewing Company was able to survive the pandemic thanks to excellent timing and even better teamwork.

“Having started just before this pandemic happened – which obviously nobody expected – it was actually a really good time for us, because we were able to kind of get a feel for the market and adapt” , Beteta said. “We had tough times like everyone else during the COVID-19 closures and subsequent limitations on seating and spacing, but I think we were ready to be able to meet those challenges.”

“The importance of working together as a team and bringing our different talents to bear, along with financial and business education, is what has made Raíces a formula for success,” Beteta added.

Wells Fargo believes that small businesses are the backbone of America. He’s put those long-held values ​​to work even more during the pandemic by lending a helping hand. The past two years have been difficult, but it has made our communities closer and our businesses wiser by showing how much we need each other and how important it is to adapt to unexpected challenges.

Learn more about how Wells Fargo helps communities across America by addressing societal challenges.

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