PA 30 Day Fund gives a lift to businesses in Berks and beyond

By Evan Jones

May 31, 2020

The Reading Eagle

Like many small business owners during the coronavirus pandemic, Jeff Bartos was trying to figure out how to stay afloat as the economy took a nasty turn. The Montgomery County real estate developer and Berks native admitted that he was “exhausted” when he took a call from a childhood friend, Pete Snyder, in mid April.

Snyder had started an organization in Virginia to help small businesses during the downturn and urged his friend to do the same in Pennsylvania. Bartos, who was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, recalled being asked “10 years from now, how do you want to look back?” 

Inspired by that phone call, PA 30 Day Fund was formed on May 6 by Bartos, and fellow businessmen Richard Phillips and Roger Braunfeld, to help for-profit small businesses statewide. The first checks were mailed three weeks later.

“It was an unbelievably powerful, humbling and heartbreaking experience in what we were seeing,” Bartos said, “but hopeful.”

The volunteer organization, which is supported by donations, distributes forgivable loans to small businesses “quick, easy and free of red tape,” according to the organization’s website. So far it has helped 50 businesses and raised more than $400,000. 

Donations, Bartos said, have been between $3 and $50,000.

Shannon Hennessey, a spokeswoman for PA 30 Day Fund, said businesses from Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley and Pittsburgh have been helped so far.

Funding Berks businesses

In Berks County, Barry Schlouch of Maidencreek Township-based Schlouch Inc., a site design and site construction company, has started an affiliated organization to help local businesses. After having to go through the heartbreaking task of laying off his workforce of 283 for several weeks, he wanted to lend a hand to other companies in need.

“It’s businesses helping businesses,” Schlouch said. “It’s all local.”

Schlouch said that businesses that are eligible for government loans, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, sometimes have to wait weeks for help and have to adhere to certain conditions to get them. Those requirements limit cash flow, he said. In the meantime, they are still expected to pay the bills.

“They still have to pay for the lease, the lighting bills and the taxes,” said Schlouch, who mentioned a fellow businessman who still had to shut down despite qualifying for PPP help and served as a personal catalyst.

The Berks branch, which was formed last week, has so far raised $77,000, said Schlouch who has teamed up with John Weidenhammer, who owns Weidenhammer, the Wyomissing-based computer technology company, to run the organization.

According to PA 30 Day Fund, businesses that qualify for assistance are:

Businesses that receive help are encouraged to “pay it forward” to another small business in need.

Schlouch said there similar requirements for the Berks program which has a goal of keeping all the funds inside the county. A group of college business majors helps evaluate the applications, which includes videos of the business owner explaining his or her passion for the business.

Help arrives

Last week, Schlouch mailed out the first three checks. One of them went to Pollack Fashion Outerwear, a longtime business that recently moved to a new location along Lancaster Avenue in Cumru Township. The business has been shut down since March 15. Besides running the physical store, the company has had to cancel more than a dozen hotel ballroom sales which account for most of its business.

Company President Robert Pollack said the business qualified for a PPP loan but is still waiting for other help to arrive, much of which is still weeks away.

“We still have to pay rent and utilities,” he said. “We have a new place. We love it and it’s a great location with our own parking lot. 

“We want to ensure the landlord gets the rent because he has his own obligations and we have to work with him. If he had to close down, we’re out of luck.”

“It will help us stay alive,” said Susan Pollack Esposito, Robert’s daughter who helps run the 120-year-old company. “We want to be a business that stays and if we can get through this, we can get through anything. This experience has been totally surreal.”

She encouraged other small business owners to ask for help. 

“If one small business closes, if affects another,” Esposito said. “We can get together to help the whole town.”

Bartos said that sort of community has been uplifting and it has been a “privilege to help small business.”

A recent trip to distribute the first batch of checks was especially moving.

“Going to the post office to mail the checks is the best part of the day,” Bartos said.