By Seth Daniel
A unique cold brew tea bar based in Jamaica Plain is expanding to a new location in Charlestown, and it’s in no small part due to the cooperation of a unique, citywide loan program that’s part of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and directed by Bill Nickerson.
The program, called the Boston Local Development Corporation (BLDC), is once again in the spotlight as Nickerson begins to search for businesses and borrowers who might be able to use the specialized loans that his program, directed by a very forward-thinking board, can provide. Nickerson was recently featured at the Washington Gateway Business Breakfast to talk about the BLDC and how it can help small business owners.
At that meeting, Nickerson said he is no stranger to the South End, and was actually very instrumental in helping the Don Quixote Market on Washington Street renovate and re-negotiate its lease some years ago.
That, he said was a long process and very time consuming, but one that was worth it because it helped the 30-year-old business survive and thrive.
That’s exactly what he’s looking for now, more businesses that need to take that next step.
“I’m starting to see more interest and more things in my pipeline,” he said. “I’m actually pursuing projects and looking for borrowers…We have tons of flexibility within the conversation…It’s not that a situation where we look at a credit score and that’s it. As a former banker, I’m one who actually still reads a credit report rather than just looks at the credit score number.”
The price of the loan is the same as a regular bank, he said, and money has to be paid back just like at a bank. However, he said that his board – which is made up of a very active group of leaders in the Boston business community – is ready to take chances.
“We’re looking to see growing businesses that need to take that next step,” he said. “They go to a bank and the bank needs to see the company continue the growth for two more years before they’ll do anything. That’s where sometimes we can step in help them continue until the bank is ready…At the end of the day, our goal is not to increase profits for stockholders, but really just to improve the City of Boston.”
In the case of the Charlestown business, Tea Bar by Evy, owned by Evy Chen, they will locate to a prime space due to open by the end of June. The cold brew tea company, with one location in Jamaica Plain and a robust wholesale operation (with bottles sold in Whole Foods and other retail outlets), is expanding for the first time to Charlestown and with the help of the $50,000 BLDC loan to fund the renovations.
“Bill at the BLDC has been so wonderful in helping us,” Chen said. “It goes beyond the money. A lot of times it can be help in accessing something else too. Bill has been very wonderful to help us understand our location and find more help. His program has been able to help us put roots down in Charlestown. That has been extremely helpful.”
Nickerson has been at the helm of the BLDC for quite some time and it was founded in 1982 with federal and state money. Very little money is added to the fund, Nickerson basically recycles what he calls “ancient” money. The key for the BLDC is to create jobs by filling gaps and leveraging larger amounts of money. He said that while the BLDC has made $15 million in loans since 1982, it has leveraged $85 million in other financing – making it what he calls a “gap filler” for small businesses.
“We try to spread out our money because we’re trying to leverage other money,” he said. “We’re usually brining a lot of other money to the table. That’s good for long-term relationships for the businesses with the banks. So, we can spread out our money to more businesses and help more people.”
However, all of that action slowed down after the recession of 2008, when banks were hesitant to loan money to anyone and were basically in panic mode. No longer was Nickerson’s program as effective because there wasn’t much money to leverage from other sources.
Now, he said, that trend is turning and he’s actually out looking for existing businesses or new businesses that may be a good candidate for BLDC loans – including businesses in the South End, Back Bay and Fenway.