Instead of corralling tens of thousands of visitors at its annual spring festival, Chestnut Hill is soliciting donations toward small-business support grants to help local entrepreneurs affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chestnut Hill Community Development Corporation set up a fund Monday to assist as many as possible of the 260-some neighborhood businesses that request financial assistance, said Philip Dawson, executive director of the 64-year-old Chestnut Hill Business District, an umbrella organization for the development corporation.
“As with so many areas, it really has disrupted the bulk of commerce and daily life," he said of the pandemic. “I just came from [Germantown Avenue] this morning. ... There are not that many cars, not that many people walking around.”
This weekend, the neighborhood was supposed to be jammed with visitors for the annual Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival, a major community event that showcases the area’s renowned trees and flowers, as well as plants and landscaping displays, homemade goods, and live music. A new date has not been announced.
The development corporation is seeking donors from the neighborhood and large companies elsewhere in Philadelphia in hopes of raising at least $30,000 over a month. At the same time, the Chestnut Hill Community Development Corp. and similar economic development organizations representing other neighborhoods are discussing options for businesses weekly with the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Dawson said.
“They work with us and make sure we can keep our constituents apprised of funding sources," he said.
Ideally, Dawson said, the development corporation would be able to give out at least 25 grants of varying amounts depending on businesses’ circumstances. The development corporation would look at each case individually and evaluate it on a “uniform matrix,” he said.
The Chestnut Hill Community Development Corporation plans to release its application for the grants in the coming week. There is no cap on how many businesses can apply.
“It’s no secret that this is one of the most difficult times in generations for small business,” Dawson said, adding that the Northwest Philadelphia community has fewer chain businesses compared with other parts of Philadelphia. “They need to make up for the income they’re not able to make through direct sales."
Two businesses already closed permanently about two weeks ago. Dawson declined to identify them.
“It’s a tragedy any time a small business closes, and someone loses their livelihood,” he said.
Some businesses that have temporarily closed are trying different approaches, such as setting up a greater online presence, to continue to interact with customers and offer custom wares.
Villavillekula, a children’s toy and clothing shop that took its name from the home of the storybook character Pippi Longstocking, collaborated with local seamstresses to sew and sell masks in a variety of prints and patterns, ranging from sea turtles to Star Wars. The business posts on Facebook multiple times a day, showing people wearing the masks.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can to sustain our businesses," Dawson said, but “in most cases, it’s not meeting the benchmark of where they were before."
Small businesses nationwide have struggled, according to a late March poll from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife, which showed that 11% of small businesses expected to close permanently within a month because of financial blows dealt by the pandemic. And 24% more expected to close within two months.
With the closures of small business, the greater community falters, too, said Dawson, who became executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business District in 2017.
“It’s normally a very busy time of year, and now it’s really quiet,” Dawson said. “It’s taking a toll on a lot of people.”