A New Roof Provides Shelter to a Braddock Business Symbol
(08/05/2011) - Ella Thomas knows the Braddock neighborhood well. She has lived and worked there for more than 30 years. She opened Thomas Beauty Salon in 1972 and devotedly has continued serving her loyal clientele for decades since then, becoming a Braddock symbol of resilience, hard work, and excellent service.
"Braddock has changed a lot during these years", says Ella. "I have witnessed the transition from splendor to decline from the door of my business at Braddock Ave. It has been hard to keep open my business while many others closed and packed away their possessions". She credits her uninterrupted business continuance to her love for Braddock and to the fidelity of her clients. "They come to get their hair done, and bring along friends, daughters and granddaughters. It is not strange to me to have 3 generations of the same family coming to my business to get their hair done".
However, in spite of all her efforts, her business was facing a somber future. The roof of Ella's Beauty Salon building was progressively showing the symptoms of an old friend aging. An initial leak here and there, quickly transformed in a symphony of water dripping into buckets on the second floor, and soon in the first floor after sifting through the first floor ceiling. The situation worsened this summer making it almost impossible to keep her business operational and even affecting Ella's health. Ella was desperate; her beloved beauty salon was near the point of financial and physical collapse because of the aged and damaged roof.
Ella sought financial assistance and learned that a business plan was required by potential lenders. "I am a skilled hairdresser but I am not versed on business plans and financial statements", thought Ella. What to do? Frustration, and disappointment ensued but she persisted, and learned that assistance for small businesses was available from a new program at Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and that funding for Braddock's businesses was possible to get from the Enterprise Zone Corporation of Braddock (EZCB), a non-profit organization that stimulates business growth . Gonzalo Manchego, an SBDC consultant and leader of this new program, contacted her, learned the details of her situation, and designed an action plan to help Ella. Soon enough a financial analysis and a business plan was developed to support Ella's business loan application and submitted to the EZCB. The EZCB was responsive to Ella's application. Chuck Starrett, EZCB representative, studied Ella's case, and quickly passed it for EZCB board examination. In the meantime, Ella's effort and difficulties did not pass unnoticed and the mayor of Braddock also offered to help, providing Ella with a new and prominent sign for her business.
"When Gonzalo came to my salon for the first time, I was very skeptical about getting a loan to save my business, but he brought me new hope and encouraged me to persevere", Ella remembers.
Finally, good news came. The loan had been approved at a preferential interest rate, and a check followed soon after. Now, Ella shows a big smile in her face. Her roof has been repaired, her business continues serving the Braddock community and optimism floats around. "I just needed a little help", Ella says, "and Duquesne University SBDC and the EZCB provided it".