Dena Rupp combined her love of coffee and cats, when she decided to open the Purrista Cat Cafe.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” said Rupp. “I understand not everyone is a cat lover, so you can still come to the café and enjoy.”

However, opening a business during the pandemic comes with some challenges.

"The banks definitely were didn't want to take a lot of risks,” said Rupp. “Also getting equipment to construction, some of those items were on back order for a very long time.”

Thanks to the Erie Kiva loan program, Rupp received $9,000 and was able to successfully open her business.

The matching-loan program is designed to help people who struggle to get a loan to start a new business.

"It's particularly targeted at women, minorities, African Americans, people that may have spent some time in jail, but are now out and are trying to get started,” said Erie Mayor Joe Schember. “It's designed to help people that really have trouble borrowing from banks and other sources."

According to Mayor Schember, loans range from $25.00 to $10,000 and borrowers do not have to pay any interest or fees.

"All they have to do is pay it back over time,” said Mayor Schember. “We usually give them a few months in the beginning, where they don't have to make any payment. They are getting their business started, or whatever, and then they can start to pay it back in small amounts."

Rupp says the extra funds have been crucial.

"As someone as myself who has worked multiple jobs my entire working career, it was nice to actually have a program that's for the people,” said Rupp. “They actually call it the bank of the people where people can help finance it, then they do get paid back once I start paying the loan as well, so it's really a win-win situation.

Rupp encourages other entrepreneurs to apply.

"I think that Erie is doing a great job supporting local businesses right now,” said Rupp. “I think it's only going to get better. I think that if you're wanting to take a risk, now is the time."

For more information on the program, contact Jenn Hoffman at [email protected]

This story is supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.