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BCG is thrilled to partner with First Women’s Bank to help empower women entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders by offering equitable access to capital—a core pillar of BCG’s Equity Empowers program that promotes women’s equality.

Rebecca George’s parents could always bribe her with books. If she endured grocery shopping, she got to select a book from the rack of children’s books at the supermarket. If she didn’t make a fuss at the mall, her parents would take her to the bookstore.

“Every book lover has a similar story about finding solace in books as a kid,” Rebecca says.

The opportunity to share that love is a big reason Rebecca and her sister Kimberly opened Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in 2016. They quickly developed a devoted clientele and established themselves as an important part of the neighborhood, hosting author appearances, game nights, and other events. Then came the pandemic.

By the start of 2021, their brick-and-mortar store was gone and customers were ordering online and picking up at a local record store. A lot needed to happen for the sisters to reopen in a different location. That process began when their father saw a newspaper article about a new Chicago-based bank and sent it to Rebecca.

Women-owned businesses grow two-times faster than the national average.

Rebecca and Kimberly experienced the inequity themselves. Their father owned his dentistry practice. Their brother owned a commercial printing business for 10 years. When their brother went to the bank for financing, Rebecca says, he was in and out in 15 minutes and talked about golf half the time. Rebecca encountered belittling language at one bank; at another, accompanied by her father for the meeting, men kept looking to him for answers instead of her.

“I spent a year doing research,” Rebecca says. “I went to conferences and created a 90-page business proposal.” When she began to look for funding, she was still met with a general disregard for her work. At First Women’s Bank, she found a partner and people who took her and her sister and their business seriously.

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  • Writing the Book on Equal Access to Capital | Image 1
  • Writing the Book on Equal Access to Capital - Image
  • Writing the Book on Equal Access to Capital - Image
  • Writing the Book on Equal Access to Capital - Image

First Women’s Bank is the only women-founded, women-owned, and women-led commercial bank in the United States with a strategic focus on the women’s economy. By combining national Small Business Administration lending with deposits from mission-aligned partners like BCG, First Women’s Bank is focused on accessible financing for small businesses. “Closing the gender lending gap is a critical step toward achieving gender equality,” First Women’s Bank CEO Marianne Markowitz says.

Our recent BCG study underscores the importance of women having equal access to capital, revealing that achieving gender equality in entrepreneurship could propel global GDP by a staggering $5 trillion.
Sharon Marcil, Managing Director & Senior Partner; North America Chair, Washington, DC

Rebecca’s background is in education. She began her career teaching English in Chicago public schools, then went back to school herself and got an MFA while teaching as an adjunct professor. She dipped her toes into publishing, working with literary agents and small presses. She thought about getting a PhD and then thought better of it, opting instead to draw up her business plan for a bookstore, and talk Kimberly, who was working in early childhood education, into joining her.

They found a space to rent and went to work. The bookstore and café came together with a lot of help (“My dad is pretty handy for a dentist,” Rebecca says) and a lot of hard work. Rebecca and Kimberly figured out the book business and quickly built a place where the neighborhood could gather. A community grew, and that community came to the rescue when the pandemic arrived. Almost overnight, Volumes had online orders piling up. The sisters were working 12-hour days and racing to keep pace with the new business rhythm.

As the world began to normalize, though, their rent was raised to a number that just didn’t make sense. But even though the Wicker Park location was gone, their customers weren’t. Rebecca and Kimberly worked out the deal with the record shop and maintained hope of finding a place to call their own. Then their dad saw the article about First Women’s Bank. A group of 20 supporters also helped with investments. Buying a building was complicated, and First Women’s Bank was on board for the challenge. “They held our hands for many months and during a lot of chaos.” Rebecca says.

Volumes opened in its new home, down the street from the original location, in September of 2022. The store’s monthly calendar is once again filled with author events and trivia nights. The website has a page offering advice on additional ways to take advantage of your friendly neighborhood bookstore. Got an author you’d like to give a reading? Just ask. Looking for something other than candy for the goody bags at your kid’s birthday party? Rebecca, Kimberly, and their staff have suggestions. Starting a book club at the office? They can help.

First Women’s Bank even holds events at the shop, and Rebecca can name the Bank’s staff like they’ve been friends forever. Not once did anyone at First Women’s Bank ask her where her husband was.

If Rebecca could change anything about the process, it’s that they had put another ramp or two in the store. Turns out kids love ramps when they come for story time. For someone who grew up with books as a reward and couldn’t wait to go to the bookstore, watching kids run around her shop is a rewarding, full-circle moment. That’s the power of equity—it gives everyone an opportunity to continue the story.

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