Salsa dancing, leather bags, and fresh beer: forgiven loans help local businesses survive COVID

Erin and Phillip Fusaro of the Friendly City Dance Room dancing a kizomba – an Angolan dance and one of the classes they offer, along with salsa, bachata, hip hop, and zouk. Photos by Randi B. Hagi.

By Kyle Kirby, contributor

Dancers have once again begun to fill the Friendly City Dance Room, and Phase 3 precautions have made it a literal masquerade. Owner Phillip Fusaro told The Citizen that a typical day in the newly reopened studio looks like masked personal lessons, and then a round of sanitizing the space afterwards.

As Fusaro put it, “rinse and repeat, you might say!”

Fusaro was one of the recipients of a Disaster Impact Loan from the city of Harrisonburg, a program established to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the Harrisonburg City Council voted to forgive all 22 of the loans they had given out to local businesses by using $105,000 of the $4.6 million in CARES Act funding the city received. 

The initial loans helped local businesses stay afloat by covering basic operational costs. Fusaro said that the $2,500 loan he received helped him cover rent and utilities at his Court Square location for two months.

“I’ve had a good relationship with Harrisonburg Economic Development… they helped me get the initial loan to start the business a year ago, so when they told me about the Disaster Impact Loan program, I definitely wanted to do that,” said Fusaro.

Fusaro described the loan application process as “simple, easy, and providing the help I needed.” He also said that his other instructors stopped teaching during the shutdown, but most of them are back at the studio now. 

Previously, the classes typically held no more than eight people. With the beginning of Phase 3 on July 1st, Fusaro was excited to begin offering in-person dance lessons again.

“We’ll just have to skip partner-switching and such,” he said.

The Fusaros performing a zouk dance.

The pandemic jump-started Friendly City Dance Room’s plans for online classes, and in September they will unveil their online dance academy. Currently, the studio is back to full availability with personal and community classes and their Kizomba Night dance party. 

“We have been really blessed to have most of our students coming back and being extremely excited and enthusiastic to be back to dancing. Overall everyone has been… pleased with our precautions and having the opportunity to dance again,” said Fusaro.

Another recipient of the Disaster Impact Loans was Lineage, a local retailer that hand makes waxed canvas and leather bags, and other accessories. Owner Paul Hansberger said the $5,000 loan he received allowed him to continue paying the Lineage staff, as well as cover their transition from a brick-and-mortar store to more online retail. 

“I am proud of the fact that we have been able to keep our staff working through the pandemic, and this loan has played a big part of enabling us to do that,” he said. 

Hansberger said he thinks the city intentionally made the loan application process simple, so that businesses could get relief quickly. The application required businesses to state their needs for the loan, how it would be used, give background and history on the business, its employment numbers, profit and loss statements, and other financial materials.

Until the pandemic-induced shutdown, Lineage operated out of the Agora Market, and was in the midst of constructing a new workshop space in the recently renovated Big L tire buildings on North Liberty Street. Though construction was paused in March, it has since resumed and should be ready by August 1. 

Hansberger said that will be a production space only, and that they plan to maintain retail in Agora Market. Eventually, he said, he’d like to offer hands-on classes at the workshop.

“I want to create a space where customers can still stop by and see our bags being made, ask questions, and have that tactile, in-person connection to the things we make,” Hansberger said. He encourages customers to visit their main retail shop at Agora Downtown Market, which is now open Thursday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm, or shop online at

Tim Brady, owner of Pale Fire Brewing Co., expressed appreciation for the speed with which the city acted to distribute the loans. He also said that he’s incredibly appreciative of the city’s recent move to forgive the loans, and that he hopes the virus levels remain flatlined or in decline here in Virginia.

“When COVID hit, there was a lot to do in terms of loan applications,” Brady stated, “…the wheels came off the bus fast, and the city closed the loans quickly [in response].”

Pale Fire Brewing Co. received the full Disaster Impact Loan amount of $5,000. Brady said he put it towards payroll, though the staff were all on reduced hours. He said at one point they stopped brewing because they were working through inventory slowly; just last month they were able to begin brewing again.

“I’m very excited to see fresh beer,” Brady said.

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