Thanks to our community’s extraordinary generosity, the Historic Kennett Square Small Business Response Fund (SBRF) raised $267,800 and distributed grants to 61 small consumer-facing businesses in Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township. Businesses have used these funds for everything from COVID-proofing measures to equipment for creatively pivoting their business models, air purifying systems, façade improvements, payroll, and rent. “Each business is completely unique and has very different and evolving needs—especially right now,” says Historic Kennett Square Executive Director Bo Wright.
The SBRF arose from a conversation between Wright and Mike Bontrager, founder of Square Roots Collective, last April. “We knew that the various forms of state and federal aid being made available were not going to be enough, or even the right fit, for every business here in Kennett,” Wright says.
Often the best way to solve local challenges is with a homegrown local solution. “Mike likened a community to an ecosystem. When one element of an ecosystem is weak, everyone suffers. But when all are healthy, everyone can thrive. Each business owner and entrepreneur brings something invaluable and unique to this ecosystem, the Kennett community. Because of the community’s deep interconnectedness, Mike knew it would take a broadly cooperative effort to help preserve, and ultimately strengthen, Kennett’s unique sense of place. So he made an amazingly generous offer—to match funds raised from the community up to $250,000,” Wright says. “We knew that, because of our role in the community, Historic Kennett Square was uniquely well positioned to take on the role of grant administrator. The SBRF is actually a great illustration of what we do at HKS. We’re here to support small businesses and build community through our programs and events, in addition to promoting the economic vitality of Kennett Square. And our Economic Development Director Nate Echeverria, with his expertise in community development and his passion to help ensure an equitable recovery from the pandemic among our diverse businesses, was the perfect person to take the lead on this ambitious project.”
But, Wright adds, in such uncertain times and with so many needs in our community, HKS was unsure what to expect in terms of fundraising. “We were overwhelmed by the response,” Wright says. “Nearly 300 different individuals, foundations, and corporate donors gave contributions ranging from $10 to $10,000 and more.” But what the numbers don’t reveal is the heart behind these gifts. One of the questions on the donation form asked for the name of a favorite small business in Kennett. “Most of the answers were some form of ‘We love them all and our town wouldn’t be the same without them,’” Wright says. “Longtime residents as well as newcomers all spoke of their love for the town, and the small businesses that help to make it such a distinctive and vibrant community. One person who grew up here, travelled, and now lives in a city talked about how these experiences gave her the perspective to understand just how special Kennett is. One contribution was made in honor of Patrick Mallon, another in the spirit of the Kennett Beer & Book Club. Most people seem to share the sentiment that what we have here is unique, this sense of community and the desire to support each other through hard times, and the business community is a big part of that.”
The feeling is mutual, as the SBRF Impact Report released today by HKS shows. “As far as financial support goes, the SBRF was the best thing to come across our screens since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Chris Thompson, owner of Philter Coffee. “What makes it so special is that it came with love from the community. We have each other’s backs in Kennett Square and that brings much-needed comfort.” Thanks to SBRF funds, Philter customers have been enjoying coffee brewed by a new dynamic duo—an expert Philter barista in partnership with the new La Marzocco KB90 espresso machine.
Another key component of the SBRF was a strong desire to help facilitate equitable recovery here in Kennett. Historic Kennett Square’s Economic Development Director Nate Echeverria, who had been working with small business owners since the first week of the shutdown to help them navigate the maze of grant and loan programs, administrated the fund and set up a committee to review the applications. “A guiding principle of the SBRF was to promote a more equitable recovery in our community,” says Echeverria. “That meant working strategically to ensure that resources from this pandemic response were available to historically disadvantaged groups as well as identifying and addressing traditional barriers to inclusion.”
To assist in these efforts, HKS brought on Gabriela Newell, a graduate student in City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, to lead outreach efforts to the Latinx community over the summer. A full 74% of businesses receiving SBRF grants are women or minority owned, and 62% of businesses are household sustaining. “Nearly 40% of them reported lost revenue over 50%,” Echeverria says, and the 61 businesses receiving grants employ 407 people.
“None of this would have been possible without the incredible generosity of Mike Bontrager, the support of Square Roots Collective, and the outpouring of support from the community,” Wright says. “We know we speak for all of the businesses when we express our gratitude.”
But Kennett businesses are still struggling with the effects of the ongoing pandemic and COVID restrictions. “Even as we celebrate the success of the SBRF, we’re urging people to remember that, especially as we head into the winter months, these businesses need our support more than ever. Every business in town is offering customers safe options for shopping and dining for every comfort level—whether that’s curbside pick-up, delivery, online shopping or private shopping appointments, safely distanced indoor dining, or outside dining,” Wright says. “At HKS right now we’re preparing to build on last year’s successful Light Up the Square initiative with even more holiday lighting. Throughout the winter months, Kennett Square will be a warm, bright, and welcoming place—and we want to make sure that, come spring, all of the lights for all of our small businesses are still on too.”
The SBRF Impact Report can be found online here.