U.S. Congressional Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove with All Chill owner Genelle Brooks-Petty. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove visited local Black-owned businesses around the historic Leimert Park on Feb. 22, in honor of Black History Month. The Congresswoman started at the hip-hop themed ice cream shop, All Chill, before making her way to other establishments in the area such as Sole Folks, a retail incubator program for young designers and artisans from underserved communities; Sika, a long-standing institution specializing in custom jewelry, African art, clothing, and other goods for more than 30 years owned by Sika Dwimfo, master jeweler considered the godfather of Leimert Park; and ended the business district tour at the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center, which provides quality performing arts instruction to more than 1,200 South L.A. youth annually.

Many of the business owners admitted being unaware of disaster relief resources readily available. “There’s a lot of help,” Kamlager-Dove told the Los Angeles Sentinel. “Sometimes businesses just need bridge loans, startup funding, and technical assistance.  Oftentimes we hear from businesses, and they say ‘I need the money, but I also need help as a micro business. How about filling out these forms? Can someone help me do that? I need more information on what is due or how many things I have to fill out and process,’ especially when it comes to employee management. The government can also provide floating funds.”

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“Then there’s money from disaster relief,” she continued. “When there are mudslides, flooding, fires, et cetera, you can get disaster relief, but you can also get support to help keep your business afloat.”

U.S. Congressional Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove with Sole Folks Co-Founder Akil West. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

The Congresswoman recalled the financial aid made available to small businesses impacted by construction along the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project. “Many businesses had to shut down because walk-in clientele couldn’t get to them because of the construction.”

Whether it’s a new or more established business, entrepreneurs share similar issues commonly plaguing the neighborhood. Kamlager took time for in-depth and honest conversations with local shop owners including Milan Wilkinson, daughter of Dwimfo, who also runs her Queen Midas Gold line through his boutique. “There’s a huge issue with homelessness, drugs, crime, and mental health over here,” she stated redirecting the focus from the highly celebrated new businesses to recognize the problems that persist for long-standing institutions. “There’s help needed for the businesses that have been here. A lot of the people over here don’t have leases. It’s month-to-month. We’re not able to make any kind of financial plans for the future.”

U.S. Congressional Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove with The Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center Executive Director Fernando Pullum. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

On Feb. 26, Francisco Sánchez, Jr., associate administrator for the Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience at the Small Business Administration, announced that SBA will close its Los Angeles Business Recovery Center at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. “SBA opened the center to provide personalized assistance to businesses that were affected by the Interstate 10 fire and road closures that occurred Nov. 11 – 19, 2023,” said Sánchez. The office is located within the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District at 725 Crocker St. and had recently opened on February 2nd.

Until the center closes, SBA customer service representatives will continue to meet with business owners to answer questions about SBA’s disaster loan program, explain the application process, help each individual complete their electronic loan application and close their approved loans.

Applicants may continue to apply online and receive additional disaster assistance information at SBA.gov/disaster. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email [email protected] for more information on SBA disaster assistance. For people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.

The deadline to apply for economic injury is Oct. 28, 2024.