In March 2020, when many commercial outfits shuttered temporarily due to statewide Covid restrictions, Wes and Tonya Beyer said customer emails and phone calls to their company, W&T Graphix, just dead stopped. The couple feared for the future of their 33-year Truckee business.
“Right away, we laid everybody off. We had to figure out how to save this place,” Tonya recalls. “It was a really scary time.”
The Beyers’ screen printing and embroidery business relies on other companies and organizations — rather than tourists — for their survival. With everyone closing their doors, W&T customers pushed out orders to the uncertain future.
Also, foreseeing the need, the Beyers worked to move operations online, which meant upgrading their ordering and management systems. Doing so required new computers and software, but they had little to no income. Then came a moment of grace. The Resilience Fund, set up in March 2020, provided $25,000 in capital. The Beyers were one of the first applicants to the program and were funded in May within a week of submitting.
“That really helped us float before the other lifelines came,” Tonya said of the Resilience Fund loan. “It was a bridge … It gave us breathing room.”
Twenty-eight Truckee and North Tahoe businesses have benefited from the Resilience Fund in the past year, which was designed to help small local businesses that incurred financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. The loans, which range from $5,000 to $25,000, have to be paid back within five years at 2% interest, with an optional six-month deferral. The funds need to be used to grow existing operations or assist in recovery, including paying for rent, staff, capital improvements, and inventory.
Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay received a $5,000 loan as a stop-gap last summer. Anik Wild, who co-owns the lakefront coffee and paddleboard shop with her husband, Jay, said they used the money to pay bills and to purchase merchandise for their shop.
“I didn’t want to lose my business,” Anik said. “I got [the loan] because I didn’t know what to expect. It was a relief and a cushion to sit on.”
The Resilience Fund, administered by the Sierra Business Council, was the first assistance available to Tahoe/Truckee businesses when Covid hit, Anik said, adding that not only was the program fast, but also local, which has benefits. Unlike the regional, state, or federal assistance programs, she said the Resilience Fund loan process was straightforward and that SBC was “super helpful” in answering questions.
“It became a full-time job to manage all these loans,” she shared. “The SBC loan was the most organized. They were clear and followed up. To have them so close, you felt like they had your back.”
Kristin York, vice president of Economic Empowerment for Sierra Business Council, stated keeping local businesses afloat was the point of starting the loan program.
“Our community would be nothing without these small businesses. It is super important to the community to keep these business owners and their families here in the community,” York said. “Local investment can truly be a catalyst for sustainable community prosperity.”
Four private local investors drummed up the idea of The Resilience Fund as the devastation of Covid rolled over the country. Looking to invest in and support Truckee/Tahoe businesses, the partners decided to experiment with a low-interest loan program and pooled together $370,000 in capital. The Sierra Business Council was tasked with finding other donations from the community. Truckee Tomorrow, which was a partnership between the Truckee Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Truckee that is now defunct, contributed $75,000, and an additional $150,000 came in from other individuals and organizations. It all accumulated to a total of $595,000.
“We raised a lot in a short period of time,” York said. “It was a difficult time for everybody. This is honestly what kept me moving; it was so heartwarming to see the generosity of the community.”
The Martis Camp Foundation, comprising 650 homeowners in Martis Camp, raised and donated $50,000 toward the Resilience Fund. Co-chair Liz McDermott said the board was impressed with how SBC set up the fund, and the requirements put in place to qualify for the loan.
“We love this community; we love the businesses. It is what makes this such a magical place,” McDermott said. “We couldn’t find a better way to put the money back into the community. We want to make a difference.”
The beauty of the Resilience Fund is that when loans are paid off, the money is recycled to help more businesses. And the SBC connects businesses with coaches from the Small Business Development Center to keep them on track with paying back the loan.
Golden Rotisserie in Truckee was the first business funded by the program, and owner Sergio Rubio has already paid off his $25,000 loan. He said the support from the Resilience Fund and the local community is what kept him going this past year.
“[The Sierra Business Council] really cares about other people. To me, that means a lot,” said Rubio, who has owned his restaurant for seven years and continued to pay his employees even when it was closed. “People care about you in the community.”
York observed now that businesses are getting back on their feet, there is a focus on transitioning from Covid response to Covid recovery. The Resilience Fund is slated to continue in perpetuity.
“It’s about maximizing benefit to the community,” York said. “It is local community investing in local businesses.”
And for small businesses like W&T Graphix, that is important. Wes Beyer said his business also felt love and support from the community, and he is grateful that the fund will continue to help other businesses well into the future.
“This entire community really did come together to help each other through a very tough time,” Beyer said. “We could see the potential of [the fund] long after this is over.”