TeaLee’s Tea House and Bookstore
TeaLee’s Teahouse and Bookstore is a place “where people who were from this community who were Black could see themselves and have a place from the very beginning.”
Risë Jones is the owner of TeaLee’s Tea House and Bookstore in the historic Five Points District of Denver, Colorado. A relaxed Afro-centric tea house and community hub, Risë and her late husband Louis Freeman ran TeaLea’s together, providing customers with high-quality loose leaf teas, food, and specialty drinks; plus local products from other small businesses owned by people of color — and books! Forced to close for six months due to the Covid-19 crisis and unable to receive a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan as the soul owner-operators, the business hit a low point in 2020.
She applied but was quickly disqualified, as it was just her and her husband running the shop. “Last year we didn’t have employees,” Jones says. “That loan, essentially, was built on retaining employees.”
Additionally, banks’ definitions for what qualifies as small business varied drastically, leaving mom and pop shops out of the equation. “Small business can mean [that] you make millions of dollars and have up to 500 employees. That’s who the banks gave the money to,” Jones says. She looked into other grants but turned up empty handed. “There have been probably a half dozen other kinds of grants that we have looked at, but you are competing with people from all over the nation or all over the state.”
Jones wasn’t the only Black-owned business that was left out of the PPP. According to the New York Times, just 12 percent of Black and Latino business owners who applied for PPP aid reported receiving funds. For many, it was their first time applying for a loan. “It’s part of a systematic problem in terms of how African American businesses start up. In a large part, they start up with your own funding,” Jones says. “How that gets viewed by banks and investors is not favorable. So it makes your access to capital different… and it takes capital to open back up.”
With the loss of her husband in September, diminished revenues, an expiring lease and her rent due, Risë needed a tight financial plan to keep the business going and scale for the future. She found Pacific Community Ventures through our partnership with Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), and we matched her with Caden Salvata, a financial generalist. Together, Caden and Risë are working on accessing capital and forecasting cash flow projections for TeaLee’s in order to weather the pandemic and grow into the future.