Shana Vitoff, owner of Society Dance Hall in Philadelphia, has a simple message for any business owner who is contemplating buying their building: “If I can do it, anyone can.” Of course, she’s being incredibly modest as Vitoff has built a successful dance studio and will soon move into a new building that doubles her space with a mortgage payment that is only about 15% more than her previous rent.
For Vitoff, her new building has been a long time coming. She had tried to purchase her old location but was outmaneuvered by other buyers with full-cash offers. Yet to fully understand Vitoff’s eventual commercial real estate triumph, it’s best to start at the beginning. Plus, it’s a fun story.
Vitoff started visiting country and western bars when she was, shall we say, not of legal age. But she went to dance, not to drink. She enjoyed it so much that she approached a dance studio in her native Minnesota about becoming an instructor. They turned her down. She returned a week later, and they turned her down again. She kept asking, almost daily, and someone finally recognized her persistence and gave her a job in sales. She quickly became a top producer and was recruited to help run a studio in Philadelphia.
From there, she launched her own studio in the upscale Society Hill neighborhood. Starting with 2,800 square feet, she soon took over an adjacent space and then had more than 4,500 square feet, teaching about 200 paid ballroom, Latin and social dancing classes per week. But it wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t have room to hire more teachers,” she said. “We were crashing into each other in the studio.”
She loved her building, but she was never a big fan of her landlords. She always paid her rent and her lease protected her if the building was sold, but when one landlord went into foreclosure, she realized how vulnerable she was. She set out to buy the building herself but that proved to be challenging.
“Each time I made an offer, someone came with an all-cash offer, and I missed out,” she said. “One guy bought the building and the next day came in and said he was going to evict me. My rent alone paid the mortgage on the property, but he still wanted me out.”
After finding her dream building, Vitoff turned to Fountainhead for her SBA 504 loan. Her real estate broker explained that SBA loans can be tricky and that traditional banks can hold up the process. She turned to experts.
“Between the mortgage broker and Fountainhead, I had all these people on my side who understood what to do,” said Vitoff. “I had little to no clue about the details, but I left it to them because I had to go back to work and run my dance studio. Fountainhead was great. They made it happen, so ‘thank you.’”
Moving forward, Vitoff’s 504 loan will enable her to expand her business in many ways. She can hire more instructors and teach more classes, but she also plans to add an after-school program for kids and a membership program for adults.
Taking advantage of a Pennsylvania law, she also plans to partner with a winery or brewery located in the Pocono Mountains so she can start selling alcoholic beverages at her studio. By opening a satellite location of a winery, for example, they can then sell any wine, beer or spirit that is made in Pennsylvania. She can now host more events, some not even related to dancing, but always with her studio as the backdrop.
It took a few years for Vitoff to realize her commercial real estate dream, but like most of her business accomplishments, it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
“If you don’t take chances,” she said. “You don’t get anything.”