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First LEND microloan paid back by Evanston barbershop owner

Susan Du

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A student-run microfinance organization was repaid in full Saturday for its first-ever loan, courtesy of recipient Ebony Barbershop in Evanston’s 5th Ward.

Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development, a student-run organization, provides microlending and business training to Evanston businesspeople who, for a variety of reasons such as bad credit or inability to afford transaction costs, may not be able to take out loans from established banks. Along with Evanston Community Development Corporation, LEND is one of the few local organizations that offer microloans.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” owner Brigette “Gigi” Giles said at a celebration Saturday. “Because I remember when we started, and now it’s done. It was something. When I heard the word ‘loan’ I was fearful and at first I said no. Then I thought, ‘If I say no to the loan I can’t produce, and Ebony can’t produce. So let’s do this.'”

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Alds. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) and Delores Holmes (5th) attended the celebration, held at Ebony Barbershop, 1704 Dodge Ave.. The three joined LEND staffers in presenting a tearful Giles with a certificate honoring her achievement.

“Small businesses are what makes America thrive, and so this is not only a terrific small business and a wonderful example of economic development, but it’s right on Church and Dodge, which is an area that needs economic development, which makes it extra special,” Tisdahl said.

Giles decided to work with LEND in 2010 after a member of the newly formed student group suggested she take out a small loan to help renovate her barbershop’s crumbling walls and disintegrating floor. LEND loaned Giles $1,500 and ECDC matched it for a total loan of $3,000, which Giles paid back within a year and a half.

Surrounded by her family and friends, Giles also accepted a box of 250 business cards that LEND designed and ordered for her. She celebrated while taking care of customers, shaving a man’s face with a straight razor while meeting guests.

Braithwaite attended the event to support Giles, his “good personal friend.”

“It was a wonderful, wonderful collaboration between the community and the University to bring business to the west side of Evanston,” Braithwaite said. “It was a great experiment.”

In addition to Ebony Barbershop, LEND has given loans to three other businesses and plans to adopt a fourth client in the near future. LEND is part of a national trend of college-based microfinance organizations dedicated to community revitalization, said LEND president and Weinberg sophomore Gaurav Kikani.

Although microfinancing was originally developed to help small businesses in developing countries, Kikani said the assistance is needed in many American communities struggling economically. By slightly adapting microfinance strategies, LEND created an Evanston-relevant model.

“Basically we are an Evanston organization,” Kikani said. “We want to make a large, sustainable impact in this community. We feel like there aren’t enough resources for people trying to start small businesses who don’t have great credit histories, who don’t have adequate financing, we want to be that bridge that can help them get to the next level.”

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