Sharice Davids strolled through downtown Overland Park Friday afternoon — with an ice cream cone in hand — stopping to meet with local small business owners to hear their pandemic survival stories and how federal relief programs played a role.
“Today has been really fun; to see just how innovative … the problem-solving modes that entrepreneurs around here have been putting into work,” said U.S. Rep. Davids, D-Kansas, after the tour Friday. “I think people don’t realize just what a vibrant community we have here in the Kansas Third [district] or in the Kansas City metro.”
The afternoon stroll began at Popculture Gourmet Popcorn and Ice Cream, where Davids chatted with co-owners Justin and Melody Woo.
With the Woos purchasing Popculture’s Overland Park location only weeks before the national shutdown, they told Davids about their quick pivot to online sales and building a social media presence.
“We had to adjust our model significantly at the beginning of the pandemic,” Justin Woo shared in a news release that accompanied the tour. “And the PPP loan we received allowed us to stabilize the business while we figured out how to proceed and keep our staff safe.”
Popculture, like many small businesses, was unable to apply to the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, but received PPP funds in its second round, they noted.
Click here to read more about the origins of Popculture Gourmet Popcorn and Ice Cream.
The General Store + Co., co-founded by John Lucas and Michael Cole, received both rounds of PPP, they noted during the tour, which provided needed assistance during the two months the Overland Park shop was closed.
“The Kansas Small Business Development Center also really helped in getting us connected to grants and city programs that not a lot of people were even aware of,” Cole said.
Although The General Store’s sales dipped in 2020, they told Davids that the immense support from the local community has brought current sales to 25 percent above their numbers in 2019.
“One of the things I heard that I thought was really interesting is just the level of support that our community has given to the small business community,” Davids noted during a media Q&A session at the tour. “Because I think a lot of us recognize [that] it’s kind of the backbone of our economy.”
Upper Crust Bakery co-owners and sisters Jan Knobel and Elaine Van Buskirk also thanked members of the community and their loyal customer base, several of which stopped by during Davids’ visit.
“It’s safe to say that without the PPP loan, our understanding landlord, and the incredible support of our customers, we wouldn’t be open today,” they shared in a release. “We shut down completely for about a month at the beginning of the pandemic, and that federal aid helped us deal with outstanding bills and be able to bring staff back. Now, we’re back to baking and serving the community we love full-time.”
As many business owners are trying to find a “new normal,” Knobel explained that she does not foresee reopening a cafe within the bakery. Rather, the extra space allows for more of the bakery’s merchandise to be displayed.
Click here to read about Upper Crust Bakery’s reopening during the pandemic.
Women in leadership
Davids’ round table with local business owners comes after a Congressional hearing in June where she discussed how the pandemic disproportionately impacted female entrepreneurs.
Three of the four businesses that Davids visited Friday boasted women in leadership roles.
“We have a lot of women business owners [in this district]; we have a lot of business owners who maybe don’t fit somebody’s traditional idea of what a founder looks like or a startup look like,” said Davids. “I think that we get the chance to not just see, but address, how those disparities are impacting people. That to me is what it means to be able to actually engage with folks who are often not included in our policy decisions.”
Click here to read more about Rep. Sharice Davids’ thoughts on female entrepreneurship during the pandemic.
Karen Greenwood, the co-director at non-profit and retail shop Ten Thousand Villages, added that women makers across the world have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“With our suppliers and producers that make the beautiful products in our store, over 70 percent of them are women [who] are not part of the global economy. They don’t have access to it,” Greenwood said. “So the pandemic hurt them in ways that we can’t even understand. It’s important that our community has just really stepped up and supported our business, so that we can continue to help them sell their wares on the global marketplace.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation works to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.