More information on disaster loans

Businesses that need to obtain a U.S. Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan have until Aug. 16 to apply. The loans provide working capital to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and nonprofit organizations. Applicants will need proof of a credit history, ability to repay and collateral for loans more than $25,0000. For more information, contact the Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing dissatercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting its website.

Applications are available at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

Businesses in Sisters hope to recoup losses from a disastrous 2017, when snow closed nearby mountain roads in the winter, wildfires cloaked the town in smoke in the summer and the annual folk festival, a traditional moneymaker for the community, had to be canceled.

Each one of these incidents would have hurt area businesses, but taken together scored a direct hit on many businesses’ bottom lines, owners said.

To offset some of those losses, businesses can apply for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s program for sustained economic injury, due to the smoke caused by 25,000-acre Mili and Nash fires last summer. The declaration entitles businesses to seek up to $2 million each in loan assistance.

Five businesses from Bend and Sisters have asked for assistance, but only one has received a loan, said Bill Koontz, Small Business Administration spokesman. A sporting and recreational goods business received a $25,000 loan. Two other businesses’ requests are pending, one was rejected for back taxes and another is on hold, pending a letter from the IRS, Koontz said.

“Mother Nature is never predictable,” said Barbara Tate, owner of Tate and Tate Catering in Redmond. “Something like this has never happened in all of our 18 years in business.”

The only contingency that Tate considered as she prepared a buffet dinner for 350 Sisters Folk Festival sponsors last September was to move the dinner indoors to avoid the smoke. That wasn’t acceptable either because the air quality indoors was just as bad as outside. At the time, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality placed Central Oregon under an air-quality alert days before the festival’s outdoor concerts at 11 venues throughout the town were to start.

“First, there was the heavy winter, then the fires,” said Ashley Reed Okura, who owns the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge in Sisters. “Then, the cancellation of the folk festival. We did feel it. It was a big hit. The festival takes over the whole town.”

Concerned about the effect wildfires have on tourism, state tourism officials have sent out 4,000 surveys to businesses seeking information about how they were affected, said Linea Gagliano, Travel Oregon spokeswoman. The results of the survey will be announced in April at the 2018 Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Bend.

Already, reports of loss have come in, Gagliano said. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel four outdoor shows and incurred a loss of $200,000 last year. The Hood River Hotel lost $100,000 from cancellations due to forest fires.

“We wanted the survey as a tool to show lawmakers that they need to respond and for the businesses to use as a potential tool to apply for grants and FEMA funds,” Gagliano said.

In Sisters, businesses are considering their backup options as the festival begins selling early-bird and regularly priced tickets for the three-day event, Sept. 7-9. Some thought about renting ventilation systems, or purchasing event insurance, and others are hoping for the best. But most say they cannot prepare for a natural disaster.

“Everyone was affected — the lodging properties, the restaurants and the service sector,” said Ann Richardson, managing director of Sisters Folk Festival Inc. “Any time Sisters is smoked in, it affects our local economy. Hopefully, what happened in 2017 is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

The festival brings more than 4,000 people to the city whose population is half of that. A 2014 study by Dean Runyan and Associates showed that the festival pumped in more than $1.2 million in economic impact.

So far this year, more than 1,000 requests came in for the lottery drawing of 500 discounted early-bird tickets, Richardson said. That’s a good sign that this year’s festival will draw people, she said.

Last year was the only time in the event’s 23-year history that it was canceled, Richardson said. The festival organization, which uses the money raised from the festival for projects in the community, reimbursed 35 percent of the ticket price and paid either all or a portion of vendors’ invoices.

For the coming festival, the nonprofit group purchased cancellation insurance, and it’s selling tickets at the same price as last year, Richardson said.

“That will help us, but doesn’t do anything for our community,” she said.

Rhoda Navarra, a Tumalo resident, purchased her tickets for this season. She and her friends have been going for about 10 years and were disappointed they couldn’t go last year, but understood how hard a decision it was for the organizers. When the organizers offered her a refund, she accepted and made a donation of the balance of her ticket price to the festival, she said.

“I felt bad for the businesses in Sisters because I knew they had been hit particularly hard by the fires and the smoke,” Navarra said. “They got hit by the snow, as well. It was unfortunate that it all happened in one year.”

When the smoke blanketed Sisters last year, Julia and Dan Rickards researched how much it would cost to install tents and an air-filtration system at their restaurant Open Door. First, it was hard to find the equipment. Second, it was expensive, Julia Rickards said. When the festival was canceled, Julia Rickards realized they need to have a contingency plan for the rare times when natural disasters strike.

Their restaurant and courtyard area is one of the venues. They considered shrinking the venue and moving it all indoors, but there is no way that 175 people can fit inside, Julia Rickards said.

“The town didn’t think the fires would still be going by the time the festival started,” she said.

“We held out hope. The thought of the guests, and the performers breathing in the smoke was not acceptable. The smoke just kept coming back.”

Business triples for the restaurant during the festival, she said, declining to offer precise revenue figures.

“We lost a third of our business in September,” Julia Rickards said. “But the silver lining was all the empathy shown by the people in Bend, Redmond and Sisters. So many people came out to support our business.

“We have lived through this before as a long-term business owner.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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