KENNETT SQUARE — Scores of businesses in Kennett are still in business during the pandemic due to a unique Historic Kennett Square Small Business Response Fund, which raised $267,800 and distributed grants to 61 small consumer-facing businesses in Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township.
Nearly three-quarters of businesses receiving SBRF grants are women or minority owned, and 62 percent of businesses are household sustaining. Nearly 40 percent of them reported lost revenue over 50 percent, and the 61 businesses receiving grants employ 407 people. The average grant amount was $4,390 to a business that employs on average seven workers.
Historic Kennett Square Executive Director Bo Wright said Kennett Square 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,” Wright said.
The fund 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, Wright said.
“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.
Historic Kennett Square, Wright said, is uniquely well positioned to take on the role of grant administrator. He said the SBRF is here to support small businesses and build community through programs and events, in addition to promoting the economic vitality of Kennett Square.
But, Wright adds, in such uncertain times and with so many needs in the community, Historic Kennett Square officials were unsure what to expect in terms of fundraising.
“We were overwhelmed by the response,” Wright saod. “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.
Said Carrie Matthews, owner of Clean Slate Goods store in Kennett Square: "Upon receiving the SBRF grant, we increased our payroll, hiring on our employees for more hours as we expanded our shop’s hours."
“As far as financial support goes, the SBRF was the best thing to come across our screens since the beginning of the pandemic,” said 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.
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,” said 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," Echeverria said.
Wright said none of this would have been possible without the generosity of Mike Bontrager, the support of Square Roots Collective, and the outpouring of support from the community.
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 said.