Small loans big in Bangladesh, Bay Area San Francisco Chronicle Copyright 2013 San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Updated 8:47 pm, Monday, February 4, 2013 A power drill whined and the smell of fresh paint filled the air as Sandra Rodriguez sorted a stack of festive banners inside a storefront in a modest strip mall in Hayward. After five years running her party-supply store out of her Hayward house with the help of her extended family, Rodriguez was finally moving into her own commercial space thanks to a $1,500 loan from Grameen America. Drawing on the same philosophy as Bangladesh's Grameen Bank, which pioneered "microlending" small sums to help impoverished women run their own businesses, Grameen America opened a branch in Oakland last spring. Grameen's small walk-up office in the Fruitvale district, nestled between a check-cashing business and a variety store, has already made microloans to 600 women for such businesses as operating food carts, making baked goods or other food, cleaning houses, selling merchandise, and renting chairs in hair or nail salons. At each weekly meeting, the women make payments on their loans; group members hold each other accountable for repayment. When one Oakland woman missed meetings after her toddler was burned in an accident, for instance, the other group members covered her payments, said center manager Lucy Ann Mendez. The borrowers commit to not only paying back their loan but to being a responsible member of the group. Grameen also helps its members with financial education and requires them to set up a savings account at a commercial bank. While the Bay Area has an array of groups that support fledging entrepreneurs with microloans, most are aimed at people slightly higher up the economic ladder. After several years of borrowing increasing amounts from Grameen, its clients "will have a credit score, collateral, experience running a business for a long time" and should be ready to qualify for loans from groups like the Opportunity Fund, Vogel said, referring to California's largest nonprofit microlender, which has an average loan size of $7,800.