Faith in Philadelphia small businesses brings ‘Hope’ to 52nd Street corridor
Wells Fargo’s Hope, USA is a nationwide initiative investing in beautifying business districts in more than a dozen cities across the country this holiday season.
Ellen Bryant-Brown’s three-word mantra has never let her down: Faith drives hope. It was fitting 16 years ago, when a stranger approached her about buying what would eventually become Hope Rising Child Learning Center in West Philadelphia. She held those three words close 20 months ago as the world adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools closed, parents were laid off from their jobs, and Hope Rising lost nearly every student from its 52nd Street location.
And it was what kept her going 17 months ago, following the civil unrest and protests over the murder of George Floyd, and as Hope Rising’s doors were forced closed for months.
The combination of the most devastating public health crisis in a century and the damage done by looters was almost too much to bear. Almost.
“Faith drives hope,” said Bryant-Brown, the CEO and founder of Hope Rising. “It’s taken a lot of the former to get to the latter these last couple years.”
A street ready for renaissance
The spirit of the 52nd Street corridor in Philadelphia is rich.
A thriving entertainment hub in the 1960s, the area has a national reputation as a spot to visit in Philadelphia and has long been considered the city’s “main street.” Bryant-Brown recalls a list of actors like Will Smith and Denzel Washington, as well as former President Bill Clinton, visiting and eating dinner on the street over the years.
Della Clark, President of The Enterprise Center in Philadelphia, believes the street is ready for a renaissance.
“Philadelphia is resilient,” said Clark, whose organization’s mission is to cultivate and invest in minority entrepreneurs to inspire economic growth in communities. “Many of the residents we talk to recall shopping on 52nd Street with their parents for Easter clothes or their first pair of shoes. I talk to people who went on their first date there or had their first summer job at a small business there. It was the front door for our community, and we’re working to make it just as vibrant and transformative as it once was.”
That’s also Wells Fargo’s goal, and one of the reasons the bank is helping to spread hope this holiday season.
Hope, USA is a nationwide initiative to share hope with Wells Fargo’s customers, communities, and beyond. In preparation for the holidays, the company is investing in beautifying business districts in more than a dozen cities across the country and encouraging everyone to join in by shopping locally and supporting small businesses as they emerge from the economic impact of the pandemic.
In addition to Philadelphia, Hope, USA is investing in business districts in Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver; Des Moines, Iowa; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; New York; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix; San Antonio; San Francisco; St. Louis; and Washington, D.C.
More than 50 tradespeople — all of whom were minority contractors — and volunteers spent days working together on the South 200 block of 52nd Street in November. They painted 12 storefronts, power washed sidewalks, installed new exterior lighting, removed trash, and installed landscaping, new signage, new awnings, and holiday lighting.
In addition, some small businesses like Hope Rising are receiving grants from The Enterprise Center through its relationship with Wells Fargo. Bryant-Brown was thrilled to learn the center was donating a large collection of books, and then was surprised with an additional $15,000. But there was more. Bryant-Brown was also invited to appear on Kelly Clarkson’s show earlier this month.
“During the show, they presented me with another check and I honestly don’t remember anything else after that. I lost it, because there was another check,” said Bryant-Brown, who has been a Wells Fargo customer for more than two decades. “It turns out it was for $10,000. We are truly grateful because this has all been such a blessing. I feel like our faith brought us this hope.”
Clark has noticed new energy on the street since the beautification efforts last month.
“It’s been exciting to see the faces of people on 52nd Street,” she said. “Wells Fargo brought investment capital for this block, and that’s wonderful. We can have all the hopes and dreams in the world, but without investors seeing that potential and helping out, it’s just a plan. Now, everyone wants their block or their building done. It makes us feel good, because we now can see the hope.”