The interior of NV My Eyewear and proprietor Tiffany Easley

When stay-at-home orders are lifted, Tiffany Easley expects to maintain the pandemic-era changes to how her West Philly optometry and eyewear shop conducts business.

Staff at NV My Eyewear on 52nd Street will keep wearing masks, Easley said. They’ll see clients by appointment only and keep staffing at a minimum to align with social distancing. Employees might even demonstrate to clients how to do some things themselves, she said.

Right now, business has all but disappeared. “I have lost at least 95% of my revenue for March, and I guess it’s gonna be the same thing for April,” Easley said. “There’s no income coming in.”

The reason she’s able to be optimistic about the future? For one, Easley is a woman of faith, she said. Also, she was able to score emergency financial relief from two different sources.

NV My Eyewear is one of the businesses that got a payout from the first phase of the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Easley was awarded a loan of $27,000, which will be forgiven if she uses it to rehire staff, as she’s planning to do.

Another cash infusion was much smaller — but still helpful, she said. Easley received a microgrant from the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to get it,” she said of the city grant. She’d heard about lots of other local business owners who’d gotten emails denying their applications.

But about a week ago, Easley got a different email, saying she’d won $5,000 from the initial $9.2 million pot.

“I was surprised, because if you listen to the news, they were so quick to say all the money was gone,” Easley said.

Almost 7,300 business owners applied to the city fund, according to Commerce Department spokesperson Kevin Lessard. So far, 1,145 enterprises have been approved for relief grants or zero-interest loans, he said, with more than 550 awards given out so far.

Overall, fewer than 1 in 5 of applicants to the city fund were successful — although a second round of awards is coming, with another 600 businesses expected to get some green.

How’d the city decide who to approve? The Commerce Dept. scored applications based on various criteria, Lessard explained, including:

  • How large a percentage of revenue was lost
  • Overall impact on the industry
  • Whether a business was a low- to moderate-income neighborhood, or neighborhood with a high poverty rate
  • Whether the business employs lower-income Philadelphians

Around 60% of awardees are business owners of color and 34% are women business owners, Lessard said. Easley is both.

Plus, Easley purposely established NV My Eyewear in an underserved community, similar to her Detroit hometown. Her business relies heavily on fulfilling eye exams with state insurance payments.

There was an uptick in eye prescription fulfillments about a week after the shutdown, but optometry was not declared essential, so Easley had to close down her storefront. She tried to deliver as many orders as possible, no contact-style, but it was just a tiny fraction of regular business.

The $5k grant doesn’t cover Easley’s losses, but it helps. She employs four full time opticians, one part time employee and two part time optometrists. The pandemic has taken away Easley’s ability to help her employees put food on their tables, she said.

“They have families,” she said, “and I feel responsible [to help them] pay their bills.”

The forgivable PPP loan will help cover payroll. Although rent and other business expenses still loom, Easley is still looking toward the future. She said her business is crucial in the neighborhood around the 52nd Street Corridor.

“I have a good feeling, I think we’ll be ok,” Easley said. “I just think it’s gonna take time to get there.”

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...