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Local companies launch GoFundMe campaign to aid struggling Sonoma County businesses

A group of local companies has launched an online crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Sonoma County small businesses struggling to open or to operate on a limited basis amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With emergency loans and financial assistance from the federal government mostly dried up, scores of area small businesses are on the brink of folding as Sonoma County remains stuck in the most restrictive tier of the state’s four-stage community reopening plan.

Brad Bergum, chief financial officer of the Epicenter sports and entertainment complex in Santa Rosa, said he and owners of Sonoma Design Apparel in Santa Rosa and Double Decker Lanes bowling alley in Rohnert Park decided to sponsor the financial campaign because they figured nobody else was stepping up to aid local small business owners.

“It came down to ’Well, I guess we should do it ourselves,’ ” Bergum said.

The GoFundMe campaign aims to raise up to $2 million by the end of November. Grants will be distributed to business owners following a “needs-based approach,” Bergum said. Any locally owned business that has lost revenue because of the pandemic, whether it has been allowed to reopen or not, can apply for the assistance.

Because of public health restrictions, The Epicenter is closed except for patio dining and takeout, while Double Decker Lanes remains completely shuttered. Sonoma Design Apparel, however, is still able to operate.

Even so, to avoid any conflicts of interest, Bergum said none of those three companies behind the campaign, nor any business affiliated with Epicenter, will receive any money raised.

So far, about 10 businesses, mainly in the restaurant and family entertainment industries, have reached out about the online fund, Bergum said.

As of Tuesday, the campaign had raised about $1,170. Bergum said he has just begun to promote the effort on social media and by contacting local news outlets and elected officials.

Jeannie Saya, owner of Cal Skate roller skating rink in Rohnert Park, is considering applying for the financial aid. The rink must stay closed until Sonoma County reaches the least restrictive reopening reopening stage.

“Anything that makes it more logical for me to hang on, for me to fight the battle, is something I feel I owe myself after working to make this business work,” Saya said of inquiring about a donation.

Saya recently joined Bergum in pressuring local and state officials to allow family entertainment businesses to open sooner.

In the spring, Saya received a U.S. Small Business Administration paycheck protection program loan that initially helped her keep all of her 25 employees. But as the pandemic dragged, she had to lay off all but one of her staff.

Saya also was able to defer payments on two of her mortgages for the skating rink. However, one of her lenders, Redwood Credit Union, has started asking for reduced payments on the loan, she said.

Without any financial help, she’s unsure how much longer the business can stay afloat.

“I can’t take on more debt just to pray that we make it through this,” Saya said.

Businesses interested in applying for grants can email savesmallbusiness@visitepicenter.com for more information.

View the crowdfunding campaign here.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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