PayPal Empowerment Grants have helped many small business owners in Chicago sustain themselves amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In June of this year, PayPal announced a $530 million commitment to support small Black-owned businesses and communities across the country, who suffered setbacks due to COVID-19. Since the announcement, PayPal has delivered $10 million in grants to over 1,100 businesses, with Chicago ranking within the top five cities that have requested and received funds.
One of the recipients, Desiree (Desi) O’Kelley-Smith, small business owner of Desi’s Full Service Salon, located on the city’s south side, said that after 33 years in business, was forced to shut down for three months due to COVID abruptly. While closed, Desi researched grants and other funding sources to help with the cost of rent and continue paying her staff but had little luck. She said, “The city had funding programs, but unfortunately, I was not selected for any of them. And as far as federal funding, mainly the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP), all of that money was sent out in the first round to the larger businesses.” In the next round of PPP Loans, Desi received some funds, but it still was not enough, leaving her to continue searching for more.
After coming across information for the PayPal Empowerment Grant for small business owners, Desi decided to apply, and soon after, she learned that she was awarded $7,500. Since receiving the grant, Desi has purchased new salon items, paid her rent and other bills, and re-opened her salon in June. She describes her overall experience over the past six months as “challenging,” saying, “I was able to find some funds, but most of it had to be paid back. The PayPal grant was a great help.”
Desi also says that since opening back up, the business has been relatively slow due to not taking as many clients and having to change the way that she and her staff service them. She also points out that she has had a decrease in clientele and staff because many of them have reservations about coming out of the house. “We do everything we can to keep people safe. So we’re taking temperatures, encouraging people to wash their hands, and have hand sanitizer throughout the salon”, she said.
Many businesses, like Desi’s, share the same experience. Lauren Spencer, the owner of B&B Candy & Ice Cream, is also located on the city’s south side. After being in business for four years, Lauren faced the sad reality that she would have to close. Due to her being a non-essential business, she had to cut hours once opening back up, thus affecting her bottom line. Lauren also shared that she had to let some of her employees go to stay afloat. Because of this, wait times increased, causing customers to grow impatient and leave shortly after arriving.
During the shut-down, many of the food items at B&B Candy & Ice Cream went bad, causing Lauren to have to discard them. Since receiving the PayPal Empowerment Grant, she says that she could purchase a new storage container to better store inventory and stock up in the event of another shut-down. She says that it also allowed her to re-hire staff members that were previously let go and bring on a few more new faces.
Lauren says that she heard about the PayPal grant program from Twitter and discovered that she was one of the recipients a month after applying. She says to any small business searching for funding after being shut-down: “There are things out there that can help us. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t find something immediately. Throughout this PayPal process, I was denied from so many other grants, and it was a relief to finally find out that I was selected to be one of their recipients.”
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.