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Local skate shop flourishing

Posted: Thursday, Jan 16th, 2014

Owner Emily Huante stands before a selection of skateboard accessories at H-Skate on Tuesday. (Photos by Roseann Hernandez/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — H-Skate is cruising to success.

The local skate shop, located at 25 East Beach St. in downtown Watsonville, opened in September and has already made a name for itself in the community and on social media.

Owner Emily Huante, a local born and raised in Watsonville, said her dream was to open a one-stop skate shop, similar to Pacific Wave and Boardroom in Santa Cruz and the former Bill’s Wheel’s in Freedom.

“We are a no-frills skate shop with good brands and great prices,” said Huante at the shop on Tuesday.

Carrying a wide range of skateboards, components, helmets and protective gear, accessories and apparel, H-Skate features top brands including, Santa Cruz Skateboards, Flip, Independent, Creature and NorCal.

At H-Skate you can buy a complete skateboard or build your own.

“You can get a skateboard complete or build your own,” she said.

And there is no extra charge for putting grip tape on the board, which can be slippery. H-Skate has many different designs to choose from.

A mother of children who skate, Huante said it was important for the shop to have “kid-friendly” choices. Customers can find apparel from size 6 months on up to Triple X, with designs for men, women, girls and boys.

H-Skate also carries a range of helmets with designs that appeal to youth.

“We’ve got some cool designs,” Huante said. “The more fun it is to wear, the more kids will wear them.”

While H-Skate is Huante’s first business venture, she said her parents, who owned and operated the Farmers Insurance on East Lake Avenue for more than 30 years and is now run by her sister, Molly, said her father gave her great business advice.

“Keep your head up, treat people how you would like to be treated and provide good customer service,” she said.

Social media is a big part of H-Skate. With hundreds of followers on Facebook and Instagram, social media allows Huante to get the word out about the shop, highlight new products and engage with customers.

“We use social media a lot,” said Huante. “It is very powerful and helps bring in business, you can’t rely on foot traffic.”

To get H-Skate up and running, Huante saved and also received a loan from the Opportunity Fund, California’s largest nonprofit microlender financing small businesses.

Last year in May, the initiative launched in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and has already provided $744,000 in small business loans, helping 44 entrepreneurs in the region.

Loans are small, from $2,000 to $100,000, with the average amount at $17,000. Amounts that are considered too low to make a profit on by commercial lenders, which can leave entrepreneurs like Huante in the lurch.

“There is always a gap at the bottom for small businesses as banks are not able to make these small loans for a profit,” said Caitlin McShane of the Opportunity Fund. “We are in the business of saying ‘yes’ to opportunity, but it does come with a cost – it takes time.”

And there lies the crux of the matter. No matter how big or small the loan is, it still takes time to service and commercial lenders and credit unions may not have the time to sit with a customer to go through a box of receipts or make sense of old bank statements.

McShane refers to this as old-time “relationship-based banking,” when customers used to sit down with their banker and go through everything when considering a loan.

“This is how we make micro-lending work in modern California where many businesses are informal or ‘formalizing,’” continued McShane.

The Opportunity Fund receives grants to help underwrite the unconventional loans, with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation recently approving $50,000 in funding to support small business lending, economic development and job creation on the Central Coast.
 The Community Foundation for Monterey County gave a $14,000 grant from the Ken and Gundy DuVall Fund and the Doolittle Fund to support work in Monterey County.

Together, the funding provides a significant boost to Opportunity Fund, which aims to provide loans to more than a hundred businesses in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties over two years.

At 44 loans distributed already, Bud Colligan, a member of the Opportunity Fund’s Leadership Council who is spearheading the fund’s expansion in the Central Coast, predicted they would “dramatically” exceed that goal by May 2015.

“In areas like this, with a high unemployment rate, we need to have sources of non-traditional capital available so small business owners can create jobs,” said Colligan.

Between 1993-2011, 64 percent of net new jobs were created in small businesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For information about the Opportunity Fund, visit www.opportunityfund.org

They are also hiring for a Small Business Loan Consultant to work in the region.

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