Started in 1997, The Progress Fund provides financing and business coaching to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create jobs in Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and western Maryland. Today rural small businesses in the recreational, lifestyle, and tourism economy of Southwestern Pennsylvania are facing serious financial challenges due to COVID-19. The speed of the crisis, the collapse of small business revenues, and zero time for businesses to pivot required The Progress Fund to respond immediately.
This response has included halting all borrower loan payments since April; helping several borrowers get additional funding from PA-DCED, totaling more than $547,000; and making more than $2.3 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in round one of federal stimulus alone. Running out of capital for PPP loans in just two weeks, The Progress Fund closed more loans in a few weeks than in all of 2019.
Here are five businesses weathering the storm with support from The Progress Fund:
First, Judith Pletcher bought a feed store and long-shuttered opera house and turned it into a retail and service center. Second, she converted the home next door into an antique shop. Third, a 99-year-old former grocery store went up for sale. At first she didn’t know what to do, but Rockwood’s position on the Great Allegheny Passage trail, between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, gave her the answer. “Let’s try a hostel,” she thought. Judith contacted the Trail Town Program operated by The Progress Fund. As a business serving the Great Allegheny Passage, she got a $75,000 loan from the state’s First Industries Tourism Program, a bridge loan, and help financing energy-efficiency improvements for the 28-bed hostel. Since COVID-19 hit, The Progress Fund has stopped her loan payments and provided her with a PPP loan.
New to Ligonier, Drue Spallholz and his wife got a tip about a “weird spot” on the edge of town. No neon. Reservations only. You’re buzzed in. Then you’re immersed in dark wood, classic food, and top-shelf whiskey. When the owner was looking to sell, Drue vowed to own The Eastwood Inn. After two banks turned Drue down for financing, St. Vincent College Small Business Development Center told him about The Progress Fund. A loan officer visited the inn, and from there “things came together pretty quickly for me,” Drue says. The Progress Fund loaned him $310,000 to buy the business. Since COVID-19 hit, The Progress Fund has stopped his loan payments and provided him with a PPP loan and a working capital access loan from the State of Pennsylvania.
When Tommy Medley and Amber Kunselman founded The White Rabbit on a shoestring, do-it-yourself budget, they never predicted that customers would beat a path to their pastry cases. However, four years later, they had regular lines from the counter out the door and the space quickly needed upgrades. While “no bank would even consider giving us a loan without collateral,” says Tommy, he and Amber had already found a friend in The Progress Fund, which financed the launch of their other business, Rabbit Hole Records, in the café’s basement. The Progress Fund loaned another $79,000 to renovate The White Rabbit Café. Since COVID-19 hit, The Progress Fund has stopped The White Rabbit’s loan payments and provided the business with a working capital access loan from the State of Pennsylvania. Tommy was also able to get a PPP loan from his bank.
When ice age glaciers receded, they left Pennsylvania a three-mile-long jewel called Conneaut Lake, where Rob Schepner and his family spent their summers. When Rob, an appraiser, heard that the only lakeside public establishment, Silver Shores Restaurant, was up for sale, he set his sights on purchasing it. With help from the University of Pittsburgh’s Small Business Development Center, Rob applied for bank loans but didn’t get any bites. First Commonwealth Bank recommended The Progress Fund, who loaned him $570,000 to buy Silver Shores. Now he, his wife, and their five children manage the 200-plus seat restaurant, which includes a patio and tiki bar, and 12 boat docks. “They [The Progress Fund] were able to look at the overall picture rather than some of the specifics that other lenders might focus on,” Rob says. Since COVID-19 hit, The Progress Fund has stopped Rob’s loan payments and provided him with a PPP loan.
The craft beer revolution and the taproom craze taught the brewing world what the Straub family has known since the 19th century: Beer is tastiest when it’s an experience. So what’s a pioneering brewery to do in the 21st Century? The answer: create what Vice President Vince Assetta calls “a campus.” A tapcampus, if you will. With help from Sen. Joe Scarnati, Straub combined state funds, their own resources, and a $1,344,000 loan from The Progress Fund to purchase neighboring properties and construction of a taproom with indoor and outdoor seating, a gift shop, beer garden, and walkway to the brewery, plus conversion of a house into event space. Since COVID-19 hit, The Progress Fund has stopped the Staub’s loan payments and provided them with a working capital access loan from the State of Pennsylvania. They were also able to get a PPP loan from their bank.
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