You could say the tailoring business is in Julius “Eddie” Lofton’s blood. As the owner of JC Lofton Tailors in Washington, D.C., he’s continuing a family tradition that began in the late 1930s, when his late grandfather, Josephus C. Lofton, whom the shop is named for, opened Lofton Custom Tailoring and became the first African American to own a tailoring shop/tailoring school in the district.

“Tailoring gives me gratification,” Lofton said. “Somebody comes in, and something is torn or burned, and we fix it, and the customer is like, ‘Wow. How’d you do that?’ I’m never going to be a millionaire, but I can tell you a million stories.”

Like his grandfather, Lofton has served everyone from politicians to celebrities to nearby Howard University students, tailoring their professional attire and outfits for events such as weddings, New Year’s Eve parties, and presidential inaugurations. But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, resulting in many people working remotely and countless in-person events being canceled, there wasn’t much of a need for tailoring, Lofton said — and some people weren’t able to afford their tailored items. Yet Lofton still needed to pay his tailors and the rent and bills for his shop.

Fortunately, he applied for and received a $10,000 grant from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund through Local Initiatives Support Corporation, allowing him to catch up on some of his bills.

“That $10,000 really helped me out,” Lofton said. “I’ll forever be grateful.”

‘Helping small businesses survive and position themselves to thrive’

Wells Fargo provided funding to LISC through the Open for Business Fund, which launched in July 2020, reinvesting $400 million in gross processing fees the bank would have received from the federal government for lending through the Paycheck Protection Program — a government stimulus program providing small businesses with short-term cash flow assistance — to further help entrepreneurs recover.

“This has been an opportunity for Wells Fargo to lean in and be a difference maker to help small businesses, so we’re delighted to work with LISC,” said Mary Mack, CEO of Consumer and Small Business Banking for Wells Fargo. “They’re doing fantastic work all over the country throughout the pandemic, helping small businesses survive and position themselves to thrive as we come out of this.”

LISC has used the funding from the Open for Business Fund to distribute grants to small businesses like JC Lofton Tailors, as well as invest in organizations that can help small businesses with technical assistance, said Maurice Jones, CEO and president of LISC.

“We particularly focused on small businesses led by people of color and women, as well as small businesses working in low-wealth and rural communities,” Jones said. “Those were the small businesses that, for us, were among the hardest hit and really needed the relief from groups like CDFIs. We have been using the Open for Business funds in a huge way to help small businesses.”

‘It’s just an all-around struggle trying to stay afloat’

The $10,000 grant has been a relief for Lofton and has allowed him to continue his grandfather’s legacy. For years, Lofton’s grandfather taught veterans and people with disabilities how to tailor, but he also taught his grandchildren, several of whom have their own tailoring businesses today.

“My grandfather was a pillar in the community,” Lofton said. “He always tried to help people and show people respect, and he taught me the same things.”

Lofton can still hear his grandfather saying, “Some money beats no money,” and he has embodied that while helping college students who may not be able to afford their alterations but always come back after they’ve graduated and are on their feet. He has continued that way of doing business today, as some customers have lost their income due to the pandemic and can’t completely pay for their items.

But Lofton has also struggled lately. Years of gentrification in the neighborhood has resulted in increased property values and taxes, and many businesses having to leave. With the challenges from the pandemic, it’s been even harder. Lofton had contracts with hotels and stores that are closed or not seeing as much business, and his shop lost more than $100,000 last year. He said he has had to lay off some of his tailors and hasn’t been able to pay his rent and other bills.

“It’s just an all-around struggle trying to stay afloat,” Lofton said. “I’m just trying to keep my head up and keep the business and the lights on.”

‘It helped me out tremendously’

When Lofton received the $10,000, he said he was grateful to catch up on some of his bills.

“At the time, we were struggling so much, and it took a lot of the burden off of me,” Lofton said. “It helped me out tremendously.”

Lofton has four grown children and six grandchildren, some of whom have already expressed interest in running the business one day. Receiving help to get through these hard times will ensure that his grandfather’s legacy continues to live on.

“JC Lofton will be around for the next 100 years because we’re going to make sure we keep it going,” Lofton said. “We feel good about where we are right now, and we’re looking forward to bigger and better things.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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