Have you ever thought about opening a business in Carbondale? The Carbondale Revolving Loan Fund (CRLF) is one financial resource that could help make this business idea a reality.
In this pandemic-scarred business climate, short-term interest-free spread loans with three-year repayment terms are currently being offered. Businesses located 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 prompted him to open a store specializing in the sale of footwear, clothing and accessories for running, hiking and camping. It opened a storefront in August 2006.
However, when the pandemic arrived in March 2020, the fate of being a small business owner took a toll on his confidence.
“I pride myself on never having a day without at least one customer sale. I was working hard in the store and we grew. Then the day before closing I didn’t have a single sale and then we closed. It was a pretty depressing time,” he recalls.
Inventory is often the most important element of a company’s balance sheet, and Independence’s peak selling season is summer.
When After’s summer inventory arrived in early March 2020, sellers were looking for their usual 30/60/90 day terms for bill payments. “All of a sudden my store was closed – just when I got most of my inventory back. I remember saying to a good friend, ‘Well, maybe that’s the end from my store.”
He filled out a CRLF loan application, asking for a loan of $25,000, with monthly payments and a 0% interest rate for three years. After writing a letter stating his requirements and providing business balance sheets, profit and loss statements and tax returns, he met Colin Laird, CRLF administrator, for an interview and then the loan review committee.
The loan “gave me a bit of a bounce back when I reopened — to get more inventory and get things done,” After said.
After spoke positively about his experience with the CRLF Loan Review Committee, saying, “They seemed very genuinely willing to help, in any way they could. It’s a great program the city has in place to help small businesses.
Carbondale’s CFO, Renae Gustine, provided some background on CRLF. First developed in 2002 as a partnership between the city and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), each contributed $50,000 in seed capital. The USDA’s goal was to create jobs and opportunities for small businesses in rural communities.
In late 2008, when the country was in the midst of the Great Recession, Randi Lowenthal left her post as director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and started the Roaring Fork Business Center, a non-profit organization based in Glenwood Springs which served as an incubator to help start-up companies.
She had heard of a “dormant” loan fund in Carbondale and had verified that the earmarked funds had not been used for many years. Lowenthal became CRLF’s 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 overseeing the loan application process.
Prior to Lani Kitching becoming a Trustee of Carbondale, she was a member of the CRLF Loan Review Committee. Today, she is a liaison between the CRLF and the Carbondale Town Board.
CRLF’s all-volunteer Loan Review Committee includes local bankers and small business owners. Kitching, owner of a local outdoor gear business, said, “It’s a place where you can have direct communication, get honest answers, and express yourself and what you want to accomplish.”
Once the committee has recommended an application for approval, it is forwarded to the administrators for final approval.
Peter Arlein, founder and CEO of Carbondale-based mountainFLO eco-wax, manufactures a range of high performance, plant-based, biodegradable and non-toxic ski waxes and bicycle lubricants.
Arlein started mountainFLOW in 2016 and recalls: “At the time it was quite small, then after a few years it started to take off. In 2019, it took off, and I was able to do it full time.
If the eco-friendly product sounds familiar, it might be because in early 2021, Arlein appeared on ABC’s business-themed reality series “Shark Tank.”
However, in April 2020, almost a year before his ‘Shark Tank’ win, Arlein said: “It was a particularly stressful time. There were things going on in our business that made the loan particularly interesting. It was just a simple process.
Arlein, with two full-time employees, said CRLF “provided peace of mind and because we knew we had that extra cushion, it allowed us to buy all of our inventory.”
Charlene Revoir, a longtime member of the loan review committee, now a retired commercial lender, said the committee meets with applicants “to get to know them a bit, talking to them one-on-one.” Revoir, with years of banking experience, said of the more personal approach to lending: “The most important 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