The founders of Bario Neal – Anna Bario and Page Neal – have a beautiful vision for their company: To create exquisite jewelry using ethically sourced gemstones and precious metals that are better for people and the planet.
In 2018, with help from Pursuit and their partnering bank, Anna and Page closed on the first business loan of their 14-year collaboration, an SBA 504 loan. This was the start of their 18-month journey of purchasing, renovating, and outfitting a three-story townhouse in their beloved Queen Village, Philadelphia, neighborhood; the home to their business since 2008.
Learn how they got started, what they aim to achieve with their business, and how an SBA 504 loan helped them take it to the next level. Together with their team, they’re showing there’s a better way to create legacy pieces while capturing life’s stories in the loveliest way.
A college friendship evolves into a business collaboration
Anna and Page met as students at Oberlin College, where Anna’s interest in working with metals was sparked through a metalsmithing internship. “It wasn’t related to what I was studying, which was environmental science and social psychology,” she says. “Metalwork rekindled the love I had of creating and crafting, which I’d always done when I was younger.”
Anna’s work evolved into jewelry, which she continued to hone for several years in San Francisco. Page’s background was in fine arts, including sculpture, and she moved to New York City after graduation, where she developed her own line of jewelry, too.
They reconnected at a friend’s wedding, and over the course of a couple of years and many conversations around the ethical challenges in the jewelry industry, they decided to form a collaborative company that would do business in a better way.
In 2008, they formalized Bario Neal. “When we launched, it was the start of the ‘Great Recession’ and our business model was a lot different,” Anna explains. “We launched as a wholesale brand in a facet of the industry that’s referred to as the ‘bridge market.’ In that area, the focus isn’t on high-end custom pieces but, rather, on designing lines that are more accessibly priced for on-the-spot purchases.”
Over time, their business evolved to its current focus. This was both a response to client requests and, as Anna explains, a necessary pivot because so many of the independent stores that had carried their wholesale lines were closing. “It also gave us the opportunity to be deeply authentic to our mission of creating objects of lasting value and building positive impact in the industry through our work.”
Today, Bario Neal is recognized as a leader in ethically and sustainably sourced, high-quality, handmade pieces that capture the essence and beauty of every story they tell.
A commitment to Philadelphia remained, but a change in venue was needed
As their business model changed, their commitment to Philadelphia remained. The city met all of the qualities that they wanted in a location: It’s a large and diverse city with a long and prestigious history in the jewelry, design, and craft industries.
For more than a decade, they leased a space of about 700 square feet that functioned as a combined design studio and showroom, eventually taking on basement space for storage and a couple of empty apartments for offices. Although that functioned well enough for a while, both knew it wasn’t ideal.
They began looking for a permanent solution and eventually found a three-story townhouse just about a block from their original location and still in Queen Village. They could see its enormous potential as Bario Neal’s home, but first, they had to buy and renovate it to suit their growing business.
An SBA 504 loan to purchase, renovate and furnish a historic Philadelphia townhouse
Anna doesn’t remember how they found out about Pursuit, but she says that she and Page knew immediately that Pursuit was the lending partner they wanted on their side.
“I think it was a confluence of things – our realtor may have mentioned Pursuit as an option and one of Pursuit’s market managers, Ashley Heaton, lives nearby and is a customer. I think all of these things came together to connect us.”
Anna describes the process, saying “It was pretty straightforward and Pursuit was supportive and helped us. SBA 504 loans involve a lot of steps and documentation and verification, but that isn’t a problem, just a process. This was our first business loan, so it was a huge project, but we felt good about it throughout.”
Over 18 months, Bario Neal had the building renovated to provide retail space on the first floor, a design studio and workshop on the second floor, and space for photography and offices on the third floor. They designed custom fixtures and furnishings, too.
“Our grand opening party was the first week of March 2020 and clearly, the timing was difficult, as we had to close for several months due to the pandemic,” Anna says. “We got creative about ways to serve our clients and truly, the support we received from them, primarily by purchasing gift certificates, was humbling and so appreciated.”
Pursuit is more than a lender: “Now we know better”
Anna says that the loan’s impact has been tremendous. “Honestly, it’s been a huge boon. Looking back, it’s stunning that we were in the other space for so long because now that we’re here, we’re really seeing the benefits for our Philly team, which has grown to about 10-12 people, as well as for our clients.”
In the time since completing their Philadelphia project, Anna and Page have opened a storefront in Brooklyn and for this venture, they also turned to Pursuit, securing an NYC LMI storefront loan.
Asked about advice they’d give to other entrepreneurs, Anna says, “We were young when we started our business, just in our early twenties, and we were debt-averse. In part, we weren’t certain that we’d qualify but also, we were determined to do it on our own because we thought that taking on a loan might mean losing some measure of control over our business and vision. After our great experience with Pursuit, now we know better.”