Lights Up - Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Excelsior Growth Fund kept my head above water. It allowed me to invest in the company in areas that we really needed, like advertising and payroll, at a time when we were just treading water. I wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise. We were hit by a double whammy of moving and not having electricity. People were sympathetic to Sandy for about a week. After that, they were not.” -Rachel Simon Lights Up in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Rachel Simon was in the middle of moving her lighting fixture company, Lights Up, from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another when Hurricane Sandy ripped a devastating path along the East Coast in October 2012. As if moving the company’s giant industrial machines and large inventory of lighting fixtures wasn’t enough to contend with, Lights Up was now among the thousands of businesses left without power after the storm.
With electrical and phone services unavailable for almost three weeks, people could not confirm orders or delivery dates over the Internet. Plus, the custom-made lamps were taking longer to ship because of transportation holdups created by the storm damage. That’s when customers began cancelling their orders.
“We were hit by a double whammy of moving and not having electricity. People were sympathetic to Sandy for about a week. After that, they were not. We had the highest rate of cancellations during that month that we’ve ever had,” Simon says.
Recovering that lost business has been a slow process. Initially, Simon decided against taking any outside assistance. Instead, she wanted the money to aid those who were much worse off than she was—people who had lost their homes, pets, and other irreplaceable things.
But in 2014, two years after the storm, Simon saw that the government was still offering low-cost loans to help small businesses get back on their feet. “I added up my losses and thought, why not take advantage of this,” she says. Lights Up has been designing and manufacturing wholesale lamps and other lighting fixtures since Simon founded the company in 1987. Most of the line, which includes lamp frames and more than 1,000 shade patterns, is made in the U.S. in Lights Up’s 10,000-square-foot factory in Brooklyn. The handmade lamps are shipped throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.
“Building back your business is not as easy as one would think,” says Simon. She used a $47,000 loan through Excelsior Growth Fund to add two new employees, increasing total staff to eight, and increase the company’s advertising presence though trade publications and expanded trade shows.
Excelsior Growth Fund, a non-profit CDFI that benefits underserved communities and businesses that have difficulty securing loans from banks or other traditional lending sources, administered the Hurricane Sandy Emergency Loan and Grant Fund established to support New York City’s small businesses with their recovery and cleanup efforts, and it was through this program that Lights Up accessed capital. Funded jointly by New York City Economic Development Corporation and Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, the fund provided $10 million in low-interest loans to businesses affected by power outages and severe flooding. The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block and Grant Disaster Recovery Program provided an additional $42 million.
“It’s been very slow, but we’re coming back,” Simon says. “Excelsior Growth Fund kept my head above water. It allowed me to invest in the company in areas that we really needed, like advertising and payroll, at a time when we were just treading water. I wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise.”