LONG BEACH, Calif. — After living in New York for 25 years, hairstylist and Caribbean native Antonio Gonzales relishes his short 20-minute commute in Long Beach on a scooter to a place that is a dream come true: his very own hair salon.
Being raised by a single mother and growing up poor in Trinidad and Tobago, he never envisioned becoming a business owner, but he credits his partner with the idea.
"So when we talked about moving to Long Beach, the goal was to move here, rent a chair at a salon, build my clientele and open my own business," he said.
Gonzales said he also planned to donate some of his sales to families living in shelters because he says giving back is important. But none of that went according to plan because the pandemic hit one month after he moved.
He didn't give up and survived the past 15 months by styling hair outdoors, teaching online classes and mailing coloring kits to clients in New York. He put money into building his salon, which cost $20,000.
"Ideally, I was going to get one chair, and then you know, I thought, let me get two chairs and two sinks and really dream big because, by the end of the year, I'm hoping to be packed weeks in advance," he said, standing in the brightly lit salon.
But he ran out of money recently and couldn't finish the salon. Gonzales said it was hard getting a loan with a good interest rate because he was a first-time business owner. It wasn't until he discovered a loan from Kiva, an online loan crowdfunding platform, that he could borrow $9,500 to install sinks and buy furniture.
"It's expensive stocking a salon, so the loan was able to help me purchase all of my hair color, my shampoos, my styling products from retailers," he said.
But Gonzales first had to get friends and family to donate as little as $25 in 45 days before Kiva would crowdfund the rest of the loan. He got dozens of people to pitch in, including Long Beach resident and client Paulina Middleton, who gave $50.
She said Gonzales' goal of using some of his revenue to help those living in shelters appealed to her.
"I really am a true believer that giving back and doing good shouldn't be that difficult," she said. "And I think working and associating yourself with organizations or people like Antonio allows you to do that."
Miranda Rodriguez is a deputy director with Local Initiatives Support Corporation Los Angeles, a nonprofit supporting community development, and matches dollar-for-dollar every donation made to a LA Kiva Hub loan, which offers 0% interest. She said 85% of businesses in LA County have revenues of less than $300,000, and 60% of those have revenues under $150,000, with owners who often have a hard time getting financial help because they don't own their property or have any collateral.
Rodriguez estimates the Kiva Hub loan could help as many as 400,000 businesses in the county.
"Because it's a loan, Kiva caps it at $15,000, so as soon as you hit your loan amount, you've raised your money, you get your disbursement within like 72 hours," Rodriguez said.
For Gonzales, 92 donors made all the difference as he plans to welcome customers to his salon next month.
"It feels really hopeful," he said. "As a new business owner, it's important to have a space that I enjoy myself and that I feel comfortable in, and I'm just really excited to open my doors and have people come in."