City reaches milestone in small business support


Gabriel de la Mora

City reaches milestone in small business support

By Courtney Wolfe

Eleven years ago, Jeawoo Kim opened beauty store Wig Town in the Bronzeville neighborhood with $5,000 borrowed from a friend. With hard work and an understanding of what customers wanted, Kim gradually increased his inventory and grew his business, he said.

However, Kim said he was looking for ways to invest more in his business, and a high interest,  cash advance loan meant large weekly payments. Seeking an alternative, Kim applied for a Chicago Small Business Opportunity Centers Program Small Business Administration Community Advantage loan and received $130,000.

“Now there’s much less interest [and fewer] payments every month,” Kim said. “I feel much better now, and I’m purchasing the building [where Wig Town is located].”

Wig Town, 126 E. 47th St., was the 100th business to receive a loan through the city’s Small Business Opportunity Center Program, according to a Nov. 22 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“It’s a great program, and [for] people like me who don’t know what to do, there is a really good opportunity there,” Kim said. 

The program has connected businesses with approximately $7 million since launching last year, according to the press release.

Three out of four businesses that apply for a loan through SBOC receive funding, while only one in five small businesses receive the loans they apply for through large banks, the press release added.

Florence Hardy, director of the Small Business Development Center at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses are essential to Chicago’s economy, and it is important to support them.

“Most of the jobs to be had are in small businesses,” Hardy said. “You want to ensure small businesses have the resources they need to grow, to become the bigger businesses that they can become and to continue to generate economic output for the region.” 

According to the press release, the Small Business Opportunity Center Program launched with eight community partners in 2015, with a founding partnership with Citibank. Three partners were added earlier this year, increasing the total number to 11.

The mayor’s press office did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

“There’s a lot of room for growth in strengthening the local economy and strengthening local businesses,” said Megan Kruis, managing director of Local First Chicago, a nonprofit that promotes the benefits of locally owned, independent businesses. “One of the clearest reasons for a strong local business economy is local businesses contribute a lot more to their communities than chain businesses do.”

Kruis said these contributions to the community come in the form of wages, donations and purchases from other businesses.

“Local business owners care for their communities, so when we’re all neighbors, it’s really great to support each other,” Kruis said. 

Kim suggested to improve the Small Business Opportunity Center, the city should promote it more, so more small business owners are aware of the resources available to them.

“I really hope more people out there, people like me, know more about [the program] and use it more,” Kim said.