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Row of headshots featuring Laurentius Purnama, Sunny Phanthavong, Mike Supermodel, and Randy Gibson with Philadelphia skyline in the background
Photo: John Dolan
Row of headshots featuring Laurentius Purnama, Sunny Phanthavong, Mike Supermodel, and Randy Gibson with Philadelphia skyline in the background
Photo: John Dolan
Small Business
April 21, 2021

Helping Pennsylvania small business owners make a way during the pandemic

Through its Open for Business Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program, Wells Fargo is continuing to support small businesses in Pennsylvania with the capital and resources they need to make a way to stay open, day after day.

The past 12 months have proven the resiliency and resolve of 30 million small businesses across the U.S. as they make a way to stay open day after day. Wells Fargo recognizes the importance of America’s small businesses — for local communities and the broader national economy — and the company continues to provide them with access to the capital and resources they need to weather the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wells Fargo created the Open for Business Fund in July 2020, donating roughly $420 million to help small businesses recover and rebuild. The Open for Business Fund supports community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, and other nonprofits that provide needed capital, technical support, and long-term resiliency programs for small businesses, including racially and ethnically diverse owners who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Since the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, began in 2020, Wells Fargo has helped approximately 268,000 small businesses receive funding to keep their 1.6 million employees on payroll and their doors open. Through April 14, 2021, more than 85% of these loans have gone to businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

In Pennsylvania, Wells Fargo has provided more than $353 million in PPP loans to small businesses, representing more than 44,121 jobs, and supported numerous other small businesses through its Open for Business grant funding to Pennsylvania-based nonprofits. Here are just a few of the Philadelphia-based small businesses Wells Fargo has reached through these programs.

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‘We’re all family, so why would we let anyone go?’

Sunny Phanthavong is giving residents of East Kensington in North Philadelphia a taste of her mother’s native Lao cuisine. Her Vientiane Bistro restaurant opened in 2018 — the second in a family culinary legacy that her mom Daovy brought to the city in 1998 as a refugee from Laos. Phanthavong’s sister, Manorack, now manages Vientiane Café that Daovy first opened in 2002 in West Philadelphia.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, laying off servers and cooks wasn’t an option, Phanthavong said. “I got my start at the café as a server when I was 14, and the people who have helped us build our business have stuck with us. We’re all family, so why would we let anyone go?”

Phanthavong’s bistro staff kept working as the business pivoted to online ordering for a year before indoor dining resumed — thanks to a Local Initiatives Support Corporation Philadelphia grant supported by Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund. That, plus a grant from the City of Philadelphia and a PPP loan, she said, helped them keep the food coming and buy the supplies to operate safely.

“We’re all in this together. It’s definitely been a roller coaster but we stayed strong, we stayed patient, and we knew that we had a good product and people and that, in time, everything would just fall into place. And it did!” — Sunny Phanthavong, owner of Vientiane Bistro

Vientiane Bistro is the third restaurant to open and thrive in the Kensington area of North Philadelphia particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Phanthavong credits that to the skills and service of her staff, the Laotian music and décor, and such tangy and spicy dishes as its lettuce wraps made from coconut crispy rice, fresh lemon grass, cilantro, scallions, garlic, citrus, and curry.

“Food brings people together, so when you have an establishment in a neighborhood that can bring people together through food, and give people a place to celebrate birthdays and other special times, it’s a positive impact,” she said.

“We’re all in this together. It’s definitely been a roller coaster but we stayed strong, we stayed patient, and we knew that we had a good product and people and that, in time, everything would just fall into place. And it did!”

Sunny Phanthavong, in a denim apron, smiles at the camera. To the right are photos of one of her food dishes and her cooking in the kitchen at her Vientiane Bistro restaurant in Philadelphia.
A Local Initiatives Support Corporation Philadelphia grant supported by Wells Fargo's Open for Business Fund has helped Sunny Phanthavong keep bringing people together through food at Vientiane Bistro.
Photo: John Dolan
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‘Time to be very deliberate about our next moves’

Mike Supermodel feels like he’s still waiting for Wednesday — the day that never came after the pandemic closed the fourth Jinxed variety store just two days after its March 16, 2020, opening. “There was definitely a lot of uncertainty then,” said Supermodel, who initially had to furlough the entire staff of the vintage home goods business he brought to the Headhouse District of Philadelphia in 2004.

With a PPP loan arranged by Small Business Banker Daisy Gonzalez from Wells Fargo, the same bank that helped him start and grow the business, Supermodel rehired his staff and retooled Jinxed to sell smaller, more transportable items on Instagram with no-contact pickup.

“I absolutely credit the PPP loan for us being here today, because in that initial first couple of months of the pandemic, we were scrambling and there were no real clear answers.” — Mike Supermodel, owner of Jinxed

Supermodel hopes it’s a temporary business bridge back to the normal high-touch world of vintage finds after vaccines and other measures make it safe enough to reopen Jinxed’s stores.

“I absolutely credit the PPP loan for us being here today, because in that initial first couple of months of the pandemic, we were scrambling and there were no real clear answers,” he said. “It blindsided everyone. When you go through something like that, you need someone like Daisy at the bank to point you in the right direction, and make sure everything is being filed in a timely fashion and getting to the right people.

“The loan 100% saved this business, because at that point, we had not done any business for approximately 45 days. With that money, I could contact my landlords and let them know that we had a plan to stay solvent. After that, we got a second loan at a very favorable interest rate. Now we can take the time to be very deliberate about our next moves.”

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‘In the arts, you have to be creative’

Music professor Randy Gibson has helped generations of students find and polish their talent for the last 26 years at his Gibson School of Music & Arts in the Olney section of Philadelphia, including singer Jazmine Sullivan and The Roots’ keyboardist Kamal Gray. With a passion for helping students find their unique voices across genres, Gibson, who is also director of music at Canaan Baptist Church and a prolific composer, said the pandemic has forced him to be even more creative and find ways to do more things virtually.

“In the arts, you have to be creative,” said Gibson. “We just did a concert last Thursday with cello, the violin, drums, bass guitar, and saxophone from the school and all online instead of at our concert hall with a live audience.”

While Gibson and his wife and business partner Wilhemina have had to muster every ounce of creativity to keep the school going — with about one-third of its teachers and students — they haven’t been alone.

“As an artist, you’re going to find a way to express yourself regardless of what’s going on in your world,” he said. “But you still need people to come alongside that recognize what you bring to the community. We have that kind of support here in Philadelphia.” — Randy Gibson, owner of Gibson School of Music & Arts

Gibson School of Music & Arts is among 50 businesses awarded Open for Business Fund grants in 2020 through LISC Philadelphia in a series designed to help them and the city’s other women- and minority-owned small businesses survive the pandemic.

The grant and PPP financing has kept the lights on, the office manager and teachers paid, and upgrades to the school’s recording studio and concert hall on track at the business on North Fifth Street — a commercial corridor whose “Where Global is Local” slogan references its more than 360 unique businesses serving the multicultural community.

“As an artist, you’re going to find a way to express yourself regardless of what’s going on in your world,” he said. “But you still need people to come alongside that recognize what you bring to the community. We have that kind of support here in Philadelphia.”

Photo of Randy Gibson at the piano, a saxophone, and the interior of his Gibson School of Music and Arts in the Olney section of Philadelphia.
Music professor Randy Gibson has used a LISC Philadelphia grant, PPP financing, and adjustments to a more virtual world to help Gibson School of Music & Arts celebrate its 26th year in business.
Photo: John Dolan
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‘One of the most challenging times of my life’

Laurentius Purnama expected 2020 to be huge for the Laurentius Salon he opened 13 years ago in South Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood. Coming off a banner holiday season, business for the hair color, styling, and makeup establishment boomed. When the pandemic hit, Purnama, who emigrated from Indonesia in 1993, experienced something he’d never felt before as a resident or business owner in the U.S.: panic.

“In the beginning, we were all in this state of denial, saying, ‘Oh, this is just going to be two weeks,’ but we had to shut down for more than three months. A sense of panic set in for our health and well-being to see things unraveling,” he said.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, no, we have bills that keep coming to pay.’ There’s mortgages, there’s electricity, there’s water, and these other expenses keep coming. Financially, it was terrifying on top of the emotional burden that came with all of those pressures.”

“It has helped me through one of the most challenging times of my life. We’re feeling more secure and have the confidence now to move forward.” — Laurentius Purnama, owner of Laurentius Salon

Making matters worse for Purnama, the pandemic followed his husband’s death to cancer in 2018. He was still grieving and adjusting to the reality of raising their 10-year-old son on his own.

Enter PIDC, a nonprofit economic development corporation founded by the City of Philadelphia and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia in 1958. With support from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, PIDC gave Purnama a financial lifeline — a low-interest loan that not only helped him meet payroll, pay his mortgage, and other expenses, but also make purchases for a long-planned renovation of the salon.

“The loan has really enabled us to run our business as usual and gave us a security blanket,” said Purnama, who is seeing an uptick in business as regulars return. “It has helped me through one of the most challenging times of my life. We’re feeling more secure and have the confidence now to move forward.”

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If you are a small business owner seeking support, visit the Small Business Resource Center or explore this list of Open for Business Fund (PDF) grant recipients to find nonprofits helping small businesses.

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