Pa. gets disaster declaration for businesses impacted by Berks Co. chocolate factory explosion

Friday Morning Coffee: The declaration allows the businesses to seek financial assistance

By: - June 30, 2023 7:13 am
Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro traveled to West Reading, Pa., on Saturday, March 25,2023 to survey the scene of a candy factory explosion and to meet with local leaders (Commonwealth of Pa. photo).

Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro traveled to West Reading, Pa., on Saturday, March 25,2023 to survey the scene of a candy factory explosion and to meet with local leaders (Commonwealth of Pa. photo).

The U.S. Small Business Administration has granted a disaster declaration for the small businesses impacted by this spring’s fatal explosion at a chocolate factory in Berks County.

The Shapiro administration announced Thursday that it had secured the declaration for the businesses that were disrupted by the the March 24 blast at R.M. Palmer Co., in West Reading.

The explosion destroyed a building in the first block of South Second Avenue, according to the Reading Eagle.

The deadly explosion killed seven people who were working inside the building, while one worker was rescued from the rubble, according to the Reading Eagle. The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report in May naming natural gas as the culprit, the newspaper reported.

In a statement, Shapiro’s office said the Democratic governor wrote a letter to the SBA requesting disaster loan assistance, based on information provided by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which had worked with Berks County officials to “conduct sample surveys of the affected businesses to determine the economic impact of the disaster.”

At least five businesses were impacted by the explosion. They’re eligible for assistance through the federal agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which “provides low-interest loans for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofit organizations,” the administration said in a statement.

According to the administration, the SBA can provide up to $2 million in assistance to help businesses meet obligations and operating expenses that could have been met if the disaster had not occurred. The repayment plans are tailored to each borrower’s financial capabilities.

Pennsylvania Capitol Building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).
Pennsylvania Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

“I was in West Reading meeting with local officials and community members immediately following the factory explosion, and I promised that my Administration would be there for the long-term to help them recover and rebuild,” Shapiro said in a statement.

“That’s why we worked with the federal government to open up access to these low-interest loans, so that businesses can recoup unforeseen losses and ensure West Reading remains a vibrant city,” Shapiro continued. “My heart goes out to the people impacted by this tragedy, and the Shapiro administration will continue to provide the resources and support West Reading needs.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.