For the past ten years, downtown revitalization efforts in Williamsport, Pennsylvania have prompted the establishment of bars, restaurants, and shops. When local entrepreneur Matthew Myers initially explored the idea of opening his own bar and restaurant, he wasn’t sure if there was a need. After consistently experiencing long wait-times at Lycoming County establishments and talking with an economist, he knew a unique restaurant could fill a local need.
Matthew, an industrial electrician by trade, first considered entrepreneurship after experiencing challenges and instabilities with contract work. He explored various ventures throughout the years, but in late 2019, the perfect opportunity presented itself: Matthew learned that a friend was looking to sell her high-end night club and lounge, Imbibe, in downtown Williamsport. While the business had been successful, the owner was looking to move on from the project. After a few initial conversations, Matthew and Imbibe’s owner initiated negations in December of that year.
However, when his trusted lawyer passed away in Feb 2020 and COVID-19 hit a month later, the project was stalled. Matthew decided to track the outcome of the pandemic before moving forward, but by Fall of 2020 decided he was ready to resume negations and secure the business. At this time, Matthew reached out to the Penn State SBDC and Business Consultant Tom Keiffer who helped with financial projections and a business plan to ultimately secure financing for the project.
“I highly recommend working with the SBDC because I did not understand the value of writing a business plan and the value a business plan has when looking to finance a business,” says Matthew.
While he was originally interested in exploring an SBA loan, Matthew found the banks that had expressed interest in the project pre-pandemic were no longer willing to finance bars and restaurants. Tom put Matthew in touch with Nancy Eischeid of the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce, who passed along a list of lender contacts, and Woodlands Bank ultimately took interest in the project.
After a few months of unexpected challenges, including rising startup costs due to the pandemic, Matthew obtained $300,000 in financing from Woodlands and, with support from Nancy, an additional $50,000 from the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce Revolving Loan Fund.
Matthew closed on the loan and the business on January 12, 2022. The facility had been vacant since January 2020, so Matthew and his partners McClellan Myers, Mallone Myers, and Robert Petrosky spent three months repairing equipment, updating paint and lighting, and installing a new tap system. In March, they opened Back Alley Bar & Grillon a limited schedule.
Moving forward, Matthew and his partners plan to hire 12 staff members, build out a full kitchen, get an event space up and running, and possibly schedule live bands in the future.