Market on Main couldn't get a PPP loan. But it found another way, with the community's help

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From left, Darius Nunn and Tywon Davidson, co-owners of Market on Main, 433 Main St., pose at the counter on Tuesday. 

RACINE — In just a matter of days, Market on Main hit its goal of crowdfunding $6,500 for a small business loan.

On Tuesday afternoon, the loan was about 76% of the way funded. By Wednesday morning, the loan was 100% funded by 140 different local, national and international lenders; it had just been launched on Saturday.

According to the fundraising page, the loan will be used to purchase more cold storage for the market at 433 Main St., as well as a marquee sign for the storefront.

“It’s mind-blowing,” said Tywon Davidson, co-owner of the market. “I feel blessed.”

A different kind of loan

The loan was done through Kiva, a nonprofit organization which crowdfunds loans for small businesses and those in need. It works mostly like a typical loan, except it relies on individual lenders to crowdfund the loan instead of the money coming from a bank.

Once the borrower repays the loan, the money actually goes back to the lenders and the lenders can choose to fund other causes, donate it or keep the money.

Davidson said the market didn’t meet qualifications for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, which small businesses have been using to keep afloat during the pandemic. For example, one of the qualifications is for the business to have been opened before February 15, 2020; the market opened a few months later.

Making its soft opening debut on Nov. 1, Market on Main is located at 433 Main St. in Downtown Racine, just north of the Racine Art Museum at …

Davidson said he also wasn’t interested in PPP loans due to hearing of a few cases of their fraudulent use, like a New York/Florida resident submitting false information and documents to obtain about $3.8 million in PPP loans.

Davidson has been working with Vicki Seebeck, a business coach from the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation — which provides business and financial education and mentoring to small businesses — since before opening the market.

Seebeck pointed Davidson to the option of applying for a Kiva loan.

“It’s important to have WWBIC in your back pocket,” said Seebeck, who was a small business owner herself before working for the organization. “It’s nice to know if you have questions, you have that resource.”

Notable contributors to the market’s loan include the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation and the Milwaukee Urban Strategic Investment Corporation. But there are also individual lenders from as close as Chicago to as far as Taipei, Taiwan.

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Davidson said seeing the community, as well as lenders from all over the world, support the market’s cause means a lot to him and his co-owner, Darius Nunn.

“You get people that know you who may not help you,” Davidson said. “But people who you don’t know are willing to help. It’s good to see.”

On a local level, Davidson said he has received text messages from different supporters, whether high school friends or customers, sharing they’ve contributed.

“It’s gratifying,” Davidson said. Market on Main got the help it needed, “No questions asked.”

Seeing progress

Davidson and Nunn opened the market at 433 Main St., which sells handmade sandwiches and soups alongside basic groceries, in November to fill a need for a convenience store in Downtown Racine.

Otherwise, much of the City of Racine is defined as a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: an area where access to fresh groceries is limited.

Mayor Cory Mason and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes paid the market a visit to learn about its mission when Barnes was in Racine on Thursday.

Nunn said despite the market having its slow days, customers — especially those who live nearby — have been receptive to it.

Tywon Davidson, right, chats with customers about a basketball game as he prepares their sandwiches at Market on Main, 433 Main St., Racine, o…

Nunn said customers tell him: “We really needed this. It’s a jewel that comes in handy. We don’t have to go all the way out all the time, but we can come down here find some necessities.”

The two know they have some pretty big competition when it comes to being a small grocery store. Smart Mart, the other recent attempt at opening a market downtown, closed about a year ago after being open for only six months. Supermarkets have more products and can sell them at lower prices, Nunn pointed out, even if they aren’t in walking distance for those living in the heart of the city.

Still, Nunn said he and Davidson don’t bother competing with those big-box stores. The business partners and childhood friends want to stand on their own.

“We are competing with them, but we can’t compete with them,” Nunn said. He added he and Davidson pay attention to grocery trends and what’s going on in the world, but that’s about it.

“We’re personable with our customers,” Nunn said of how they set themselves apart. “We have relationships with people. They come in, they wave, they’re happy.”