Capital City Diner
Capital City Diner

Micro lending for small businesses is common in some countries, especially in the developing world.  But with the economic recession, micro lending is growing in the United States because it's difficult to get a bank loan to start a small business, especially for people with low incomes.  A private group is lending money to low income people in Washington so they can follow their dream. The loans range from $500 to $50,000. 

Fidel Garcia is the owner of Capital Pilates and Patrick Carl is co-owner of the Capital City Diner. Both were able to start businesses in Washington with a small loan from the Latino Economic Development Corporation.

Garcia is a Cuban immigrant who opened his pilates exercise studio in November in an upscale neighborhood after retiring as a professional ballet dancer.

He applied for loans at many banks but was turned down. Then he went to LEDC and got $10,000. "It was a great help, because at that point, I really needed that money to help (buy) equipment, and with the rent.  And I am very thankful to them because I really needed that extra push that they gave me," he said.

Patrick Carl and his business partner say LEDC let them borrow $35,000.  "They walked you through the process like you were family.  It wasn't so business-like that it was uncomfortable or difficult or surprising. It was just helpful," he said.

The Latino Economic Development Corporation began the lending program more than 10 years ago to help Hispanics, but now provides loans to anyone with a low income.

"We look to see how much a client can afford to pay and that's how we determine how much they get -- how much a client has available after they've paid all of their expenses to be able to take on a new debt," said  Charlene Van Dijk, the lending manager.   

She says more than half the clients are Latino. "There's a huge immigrant population in Washington.  We have a bunch of Ethiopian clients.  We have clients from Southeast Asia."

LEDC is often the last stop for people with low incomes who want to set up small businesses. "We've worked with an accounting firm, an autopsy service, and a lot of on-line services, companies that are starting on-line businesses," she said.

Financing is also given to restaurants like the Capital City Diner, which was constructed in the 1940s.  The diner was moved by truck from a small town in New York to a low income neighborhood in Washington.

"We bought the entire restaurant, the entire building, plates, dishes.  We found the diner on E-bay.  We live in the neighborhood and there's no place for breakfast.  There's no sit-down restaurants and it seemed like a good opportunity for us," said Patrick Carl, co-owner, Capital City Diner.  

Capital City Diner opened two months ago, and like Garcia's pilates studio, business is booming.  "On any given day, you can have a rich person next to a poor person.  It could be anybody who can walk in because everyone wants good food at good prices in a comfortable atmosphere," he said.

Garcia says after he pays off his loan, he plans to apply for another small loan from LEDC. "Because the studio has to grow.  And there are a lot of people who want to take classes," he said.

Last year, LEDC handed out $600,000 in small loans.  Only one client has not repaid a loan, after he lost a job that helped support his business.