County business owners encounter depressed values, buyers who can't get loans

  • Carmen Campos, right, who opened her second Carmen's Burger Bar-the other is in Santa Rosa's Town and Country Village-in Larkfield, is a hands on type of owner who regularly helps out with serving and taking orders. Even in this tough economy, Campos is making a go of it at with the new location. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

Carmen Campos spent two years seeking the right location for her second Carmen's Burger Bar.

Campos wanted a more visible building than her original restaurant, which sits tucked in a residential neighborhood in Santa Rosa's Town & Country Village. She found it in a small strip center next to the Wells Fargo Center on Mark West Springs Road at Old Redwood Highway.

Campos and her husband, Alvaro Ramos, bought the shuttered pizzeria on that site and last month opened it for business. Already the couple and 14 employees are matching the sales at the original location, even though the new site is still awaiting a full liquor license.

"We're making more burgers than they are," Campos said Thursday afternoon at the Larkfield location.

Carmen's is a bright spot in the battered world of small business sales.

More common are tales of owners reeling from depressed business values, buyers who can't get loans and business brokers who, over the past three years, have seen transactions plummet.

"I think the industry's probably off 50 percent from what it was," said Al Statz, owner of Exit Strategies, a business brokerage in Petaluma.

Sales of Sonoma County small businesses — cafes, markets, auto parts stores and more — declined 44 percent from 2007 to 2009, according to BizBen.com of Dublin, an online website for the sale of businesses. Sales statewide declined 46 percent.

For the county, 258 small business sales completed escrow in 2009, compared with 462 in 2007. For California, 14,277 sold in 2009, compared with 26,238 in 2007.

The value of the businesses declined, too. Total sales at Tom Barnett's Santa Rosa Realty fell to $4.8 million last year from $7 million in 2008.

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