A year after the start of COVID-19, small businesses are still fighting to stay afloat. All over the country, entrepreneurs are working tirelessly to get the funding they need to make it through. The struggle is especially heightened for minority-owned small businesses like Everardo Keeme’s photography studio in Phoenix, Photo Fusion Studio.
Everardo is a photographer who specializes in large corporate events — so when they were cancelled, he was without work. “Events were over 80 percent of my business. The week before St. Patrick’s Day last year, I lost I don’t know how many contracts,” Everardo said. “In one day, I’d lost 60 percent of the revenue I expected over the next couple of months. Within the next couple of weeks, I lost everything else.”
Everardo has owned Photo Fusion for several years, but he rents the brick-and-mortar space he uses to run his business. Almost overnight, he had no way to pay rent on his home or his studio. “I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do? Am I going to have to move in the middle of the night?’” Everardo remembered. “That’s when the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reached out with the opportunity to participate in some grant programs.”
The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC) advocates on behalf of Hispanic business owners in Arizona, offering development opportunities for small businesses. “The issues and challenges that small businesses, specifically minority-owned businesses, were facing prior to the pandemic I often refer to as the ‘perfect storm,’” said Monica Villalobos, the CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC).
In Arizona, Hispanic-owned businesses make less than half of the profits that non-minority-owned businesses make in a year. On average, a small business has about two weeks’ worth of reserve funds to use if they can’t operate. For Hispanic business owners, it’s about two days’ worth. “We knew it was going to be the minority-owned businesses like Everardo’s that were hit the hardest,” Monica said.
When the pandemic hit, the AZHCC’s mission changed. Ninety-eight percent of jobs in Arizona come from small businesses, so COVID-19 threatened livelihoods almost immediately. The staff at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce knew they had to act fast. “We converted our business development team into a grant response specialist team and created a fund,” Monica said. “We worked with corporate partners like U.S. Bank to build a fund for microgrants. The grants were $1,000 a week over six weeks maximum, meant to be a safety net for businesses to figure out what to do from a finance standpoint and how to pivot.”
Everardo received one of the AZHCC’s small business grants, which he used to cover the bills he would’ve otherwise struggled to pay. But it wasn’t just the grant that got him back on his feet — the AZHCC connected him with U.S. Bank, who was looking for a photographer for a few projects in Phoenix. “I was hired for four different jobs for U.S. Bank,” Everardo said. “It’s been quite a bit of business that I really needed, and I’ve referred them to photographers in other cities where they need work done.”
One year later, the AZHCC is still helping Hispanic-owned small businesses find resources, and Everardo is getting Photo Fusion ready as events start up again. As business gets busier, he hopes to hire a full-time employee to help bolster the studio. “I hope someday I cannot only help myself live and survive, but to help someone else do that as well,” he said. “I’m very grateful. Photo Fusion would not be here without U.S. Bank and the AZHCC.”
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