Winners of Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge still looking for funding

Kiva is a nonprofit with a website that allows people to band together to help provide loans to small business owners and other people looking to fund various projects.

3525 Kensington Avenue is the future site of Naturally Sweet Desserts. This image is a picture of the site before construction began. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Two winners of the Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge, a partnership between Shift Capital, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce and the Impact Services Corporation to award nine local business locations along Kensington Avenue, are utilizing Kiva to fund the openings of their businesses. Kiva is a nonprofit with a website that allows people to band together to help provide loans to small business owners and other people looking to fund various projects.

Genevieve Greer is still looking for funding for her new business, Juggernaut, which is slated to be a low-cost artist studio and a public glass studio with a retail space open to the public.

There will be five private artist studios available for rent in the business, with rent ranging from $275-$350 per month. In 2019, Greer plans to add a teenage mentoring program to the business.

“I knew I would have to find more money,” said Greer, who’s opening her first brick and mortar store, “but I didn’t realize how much goes into the fundraising process in all of this.”

She earned $10,000 to put toward the opening of her business from Shift Capital, one of the partners of the challenge. She’s looking to raise another $10,000 from Kiva, another $10,000 after that from a Kickstarter campaign slated to start in April, and additional funds from other investment firms. She said she’s already gotten calls from various firms, and plans to pitch her business to those and others in the near future.

Greer is also planning to use her business as a performance space.

“My husband is a performance glass artist,” said Greer. “We’re going to be doing a lot of that for like first Fridays and try to create a little bit of a fuss on Kensington Avenue.”

Greer also has a stained glass business, which she’s been running out of her home for a little while. However, she said opening an actual retail store is about “100 times” more difficult. She’s planning to have her store open sometime in May.

Sherimane Johnson is another one of the nine winners of the Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge. Johnson, who’s opening a vegan bakery and cafe on the avenue called Naturally Sweet Desserts, has already raised her max limit of $10,000 on Kiva. She started the Kiva on a Friday and got the $10,000 by the end of the weekend.

“I woke up on Sunday and we were 100 percent funded,” Johnson said. “There’s no way that I expected that to happen.”

However, Johnson, who also received a $10,000 award for winning the challenge, is looking to for angel investors to help her raise an additional $40,000 to $50,000 to make her dream business become a reality.

Her business is especially important to her because learning how to eat vegan and healthy got her off her diabetes medicine and helped her live a healthier lifestyle.

“I think I can be part of the solution by feeding them something that’s really good and they won’t even know it’s healthy,” she said. “A lot of my investors at Kiva have the same feeling about food and disease. It was really cool to see so many people believing what I believe. It was a great affirmation for me to get that done in three days.”

NKCDC Economic Development Director Kaelyn Anderson called the challenge a “‘Shark Tank’ style-competition to re-energize Kensington Avenue and reimagine what the commercial corridor can be.” She said the goal was to “create a catalyst affect by reintroducing a whole bunch of businesses at once.”

There were about 30 applications for the nine available storefronts. A total of 14 finalists were selected to give “Shark Tank” style pitches, and the nine best were awarded the vacancies on the avenue. In addition to Juggernaut and Naturally Sweet Desserts, the following seven businesses were also announced as winners back in December: A Philly Soft Pretzel Factory franchise, a bakery called Pound Cake Heaven, a specialty Vietnamese Coffee roaster and retailer Caphe, a daycare called Drummond’s Kiddie Kollege, an audio studio called AC//Sounds, an Italian restaurant called Riposo Cafe, and Soil To Soul and Juice Jawn, which will be a spot for healthy soul food and fresh juices.

“Most of the businesses on [Kensington] avenue have been there for more than five years and have been still struggling to stay in business in that atmosphere. There isn’t really a good diversity of services and goods on the avenue,” Anderson said. “What we were trying to do was provide an area where people can come and do things they typical travel outside of the neighborhood to do.”

To support Juggernaut financially, visit the Kiva fundraiser page at https://www.kiva.org/lend/1462706.

To support Naturally Sweet Desserts as an angel investor, reach out to Sherimane Johnson at naturallysweetdesserts@gmail.com.