Financial First Responders
Heroes are among us. They’ve appeared in both predictable and surprising places over the past two years. From the medical professionals who nursed patients back to health to the public officials who walked the fine line of hard truths, from the classroom teachers forced to muster their own courage to help the state’s children keep going to the front-line workers who kept us all fed and clothed and flush with life’s necessities.
And then there were the bankers. Little attention has been paid to the financial first responders and not nearly enough praise given to these dedicated men and women who collectively kept the country’s small business community afloat. They worked grueling hours, they explained complicated rules, they pivoted, they fought, and they cried right along with their clients—men and women just like you. They deserve a collective thank you far beyond this small sampling of stories straight from the battlefield.
There are several moments in Victoria West’s life where she can remember exactly what she was wearing, the spot where she was standing, and the emotion she felt, as raw and real as if it were yesterday. Hearing that she was approved for a PPP loan became one of those moments.
West opened the Gift Gallery of Vienna eight years ago, and business was good—predictable even, she says. “By five years in business, I had it where I knew what to order when, how much of it I would sell, and even the income it would generate within a few dollars,” she says.
Nothing about those first five years prepared her for the uncertainty of 2020. “All of a sudden, I’m hearing the news and these terrifying stories about this new virus, and my anxiety went through the roof. I had a 72-year-old employee who worked directly with the public every day. I knew one of the first things I had to do was get her out of there,” West says. “I felt like I no longer just had to think for myself, my family, and my business, but now I also had to think for my staff and my customers, too. It was so overwhelming not to fully know what was coming.”
West didn’t know how long she could sustain the business without the normal flow of customer traffic, and she wasn’t sure how long she could keep paying her five employees, either. “I called banks, and they were frustrated. Many of them didn’t understand this new program, and they didn’t have the manpower to jump in and learn. And then I called Danielle.”
West and Danielle Allphin, a business banker at Peoples Bank in Parkersburg, had worked fundraisers and other events together in the past. Within seconds of “Hello,” Allphin said she could help. The time between that call and the notification that a PPP check was on the way was about 10 days. With those funds, West not only saved her small business, but was able to open another one. “I don’t know if I would have been able to hang on without her and this program,” West says. “I would have become a one-woman operation, and probably would have had to back out of so much that we’d accomplished with the Gift Gallery. I would have been so sad, and my small business would probably no longer exist today.”
Allphin was an unflinching pillar of support during a very trying time, West says. And Allphin says it was the least she could do for West and business owners just like her. “I tried to put myself in their shoes. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night, if I got news, I shared it with them. I knew they would want to know what was going on. And when they cried, I cried. I just wanted to help as many people as I could.”
West was able to keep the Gift Gallery’s doors open and her staff paid, and also launch The Cardinal Market—an 8,000-square-foot space that’s home to more than 50 vendors and what West describes as “shop local on steroids.” “Cardinal Market is a beautiful collaboration of local vendors that survived this thing together. My story is like so many others. And without Danielle and Peoples Bank, there wouldn’t have been a happy ending.”
READ MORE ARTICLES FROM WV LIVING’S WINTER 2021 ISSUE
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