Have you ever thought of opening a business in Carbondale? The Carbondale Revolving Loan Fund (CRLF) is one financial resource that could help make that business idea a reality.
In this pandemic-impacted business climate, 0% interest, short-term gap loans with three-year repayment terms are currently being offered. Businesses within the city limits of Carbondale are eligible to apply.
Brion After, the owner of Independence Run and Hike in Carbondale, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2000. His enthusiasm for the outdoor lifestyle was beckoning him to open a store specializing in selling footwear, apparel and accessories for running, hiking and camping. He opened a storefront in August 2006.
However, when the pandemic arrived in March 2020, the plight of being a small business owner delivered a blow to his confidence.
“I prided myself on never having a day without at least one customer sale. I’d been working hard in the store, and we grew. Then the day before we closed, I didn’t have a single sale, and then we shut down. It was a pretty depressing time,” he recalled.
Inventory is often the most significant item on a business balance sheet, and Independence’s peak selling season is summer.
When After’s summer inventory arrived in early March 2020, vendors were seeking their usual 30/60/90 day terms for the payment of invoices. “All of a sudden, my store got shut down — right when I got most of my inventory. I remember saying to a good friend, ‘Well, this might be the end of my store.’”
He completed a CRLF loan application, requesting a $25,000 loan, with monthly payments and a three-year, 0% interest rate. After writing a letter stating his needs and providing business balance sheets, profit and loss statements and tax returns, he met with Colin Laird, CRLF administrator, for an interview and then the Loan Review Committee.
The loan “gave me a bit of bounce when I opened back up again — to get more inventory and keep things moving,” After said.
After spoke positively about his experience with CRLF’s loan review committee, saying, “They seemed very genuinely willing to help, in any way they could. It’s a great program that the town has put together to help small businesses.”
Carbondale Finance Director Renae Gustine provided a bit of CRLF background. First developed in 2002 as a partnership between the town and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), each contributed $50,000 in seed money. The USDA’s goal was to create jobs and small business opportunities in rural communities.
By the end of 2008, when the country was in the middle of the Great Recession, Randi Lowenthal had left her position as director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and started the Roaring Fork Business Center, a nonprofit based in Glenwood Springs that served as an incubator to assist startup businesses.
She had heard about a “dormant” loan fund in Carbondale and verified that earmarked funds had not been used for many years. Lowenthal became CRLF loan administrator and actively promoted the program to the Carbondale business community.
When Lowenthal left in 2017, Laird, executive director of Carbondale’s Third Street Center, took over as loan administrator, organizing and providing oversight for the loan application process.
Before Lani Kitching was a Carbondale trustee, she was a CRLF loan review committee member. Today, she is a liaison between CRLF and the Carbondale Board of Town Trustees.
The CRLF’s all-volunteer loan review committee includes local bankers and small business owners. Kitching, who owns a local outdoor outfitting company, said, “It’s one place where you can have direct communication, get some honest answers and express yourself and what you wish to accomplish.”
After the committee recommends approval of an application, it moves on to the trustees for final approval.
Peter Arlein, founder and CEO of Carbondale-based mountainFLO eco-wax, manufactures a line of high-performance, plant-based, biodegradable and non-toxic ski wax and bike lube.
Arlein started mountainFLOW in 2016 and recalled, “At the time it was pretty small, and then, after a few years, it started to take off. In 2019, it got legs, and I was able to move to that full-time.”
If the environmentally-friendly product sounds familiar, it may be because, in early 2021, Arlein appeared on ABC’s business-themed reality television series “Shark Tank.”
However, in April 2020, almost a year before his “Shark Tank” win, Arlein said, “It was a particularly stressful time. A few things were going on with our business that made the loan particularly attractive. It was just a straightforward process.”
Arlein, with two full-time employees, said the CRLF “provided peace of mind and, because we knew we had that extra cushion, it allowed us to buy our full inventory.”
A long-time loan review committee member, Charlene Revoir, now a retired commercial lender, said the committee meets with applicants “to get to know them a little bit, by talking with them one-on-one.” Revoir, with years of banking experience, said of the more personal approach to lending, “The biggest thing is to get to know someone, rather than just what’s on paper.”
You can find more information about the CRLF at www.bit.ly/CRLFloans
The mountainFLOW Bike Wash + Degreaser spray bottle is also ecofriendly. Courtesy photo