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Not All Heroes Wear Masks.
Some Make Them.

Philadelphia dressmaker one of 134 recipients of $15,000 grant from Citizens Bank’s Small Business Recovery Program

By Tiffany Cuddihy | Citizens Bank Staff

It was merely months ago when spring and summer brides eagerly scheduled gown fittings and final alternations before their upcoming weddings. Their most pressing concerns? Veil length, heel size, and ensuring their perfect dress fit for their perfect day.

Then suddenly, unbridled excitement turned into something else: unbearable uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, and with it, the 2020 wedding season. Now, these future brides are left to be their own something blue, while their dressmakers hang onto their businesses by a thread.

Anila’s Dress Maker in Phliadelphia is one of countless small businesses seeing an abrupt halt in bridal business. “I’m having to give deposits back to brides who aren’t even sure when their new wedding date will be,” owner Anila shares, a mix of panic and defeat in her voice.

The $78 billion wedding industry is taking a hard hit during its most active season, with small businesses like Anila’s feeling the brunt of the impact. As Anila describes it, navigating the COVID-19 crisis is even more difficult than opening the shop in the first place.

From temporarily shutting her shop doors to rethinking how she sets up future appointments, every aspect of her business is now adorned with question marks. Typically, Anila makes wedding dress alterations for designers in New York City, but that business isn’t coming in right now due to the pandemic. Even her April fashion show, in which she shares her own designs, had to be postponed until later in the year.

Anila’s Dress Maker sign near its office in the Phialdelphia area.

Anila’s Dress Maker in Philadelphia is one of countless small businesses seeing an abrupt halt in bridal business.

The silver lining for Anila? The unexpected down time has given her the opportunity to help her community.

“Right now, I’m making face masks for medical facilities in need,” she explains. “I have the tools, ability, and fabric to help, so that’s what I’m doing.”

It’s that rush-to-help spirit that earned Anila’s Dress Maker a $15,000 grant from Citizens Bank’s Small Business Recovery Program, which is awarding a collective $2 million in grants to 134 small businesses.

“I have been a Citizens Bank customer for almost 20 years,” Anila says. “Since day one, Citizens has been helping make my dreams come true.”

These days, Anila spends hours at her sewing machine, helping to stitch back together a community that’s been pulled apart at its seams by the pandemic. Instead of beading wedding gowns and adjusting prom dress hemlines, she’s spending her busiest season creating protective gear for firstliners. While her work is far less glamourous these days, the end result is a far more beautiful act of kindness.

“I do it from my heart,” Anila says. “It makes me happy to give back.”

To date, she’s mailed more than 1,300 masks to medical professionals — and even some high-risk customers — using her own money to pay for the shipping. One recipient of Anila’s masks is Chimes International, a Baltimore-based facility that assists people with developmental and behaviorial challenges in the mid-Atlantic region. If an organization reaches out, Anila is quick to start sewing without a second thought. She refuses to ask for social media or website plugs in return for her services; in fact, she seems almost insulted by the idea.

“I don’t want any recognition, I just want to help in any way I can,” Anila says.

RELATED: Grant Recipient Fresh Truck Is Ready to Keep Rolling in Boston

Anila is as resilient and resourceful as she is humble and compassionate. In 2001, she came over to the United States as part of a green card lottery from her home country of Albania, leaving much of her family behind. Anila started dressmaking as a teenager in Albania, and dreamed of opening up her own shop one day. Today, Anila and her husband — a local pizza shop owner — have two daughters.

In the midst of this small business crisis, it’s truly inspiring how Anila is putting the needs of others above her own business insecurities.

Perhaps as further testament to her selflessness, it was one of her daughters who submitted her application for the grant, knowing her mother wouldn’t reach out on her own behalf. Her daughter also runs Anila’s Dress Maker’s social media accounts. Anila would much rather spend her time sewing than posting.

Anila plans to use the $15,000 grant money for her business’ utilities and rent, as well as supplies to continue making masks.

While the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as a time of crisis, it’s also been a time of hope and humanity.

A time when one local dressmaker became a local hero.

We’re made ready to help small businesses

Citizens Bank is here to help support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve committed $5 million to help support local businesses, including the more than $2 million in grants provided to 134 businesses.

Check out all the ways Citizens Bank is supporting local businesses and our communities during the pandemic.

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