More than a month after the Mountain Fire burned more than 27,000 acres and threatened mountain communities around Idyllwild, business owners are still feeling the pain. Tourists have been slow to return. Now, the area is dealing with the threat of flooding with is also keeping people away. The federal government is now offering assistance to help business owners get back on their feet. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest working capital federal disaster loans to small businesses economically impacted by the Mountain Fire that occurred July 15-July 30, 2013, SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills said. SBA acted under its own authority to declare a disaster in response to a request SBA received from Governor Brown's designated representative Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, on August 14, 2013.
In the town of Idyllwild, Jo An's Restaurant and Bar had an unusually quiet lunch hour. An empty patio, an empty bar and empty booths and tables made the scene which has become the norm since the Mountain Fire threatened the town. "Since the fire, it's just been a ghost town up here," said Mike Lackey, the owner of Jo An's. "You know, the whole town is suffering."
Down the street at the Strawberry Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast, co-owner Rodney Williams is preparing rooms for the holiday weekend. While the bed and breakfast starts to welcome a few guests back, Williams says they're hurting like the rest of the town. "It's a domino effect," said Williams. "Even if everybody's affected just a little bit, it's a little bit of less money that's being recirculated to the community."
Firefighters protected Idyllwild from any physical damage, but not from the financial damage in a normally busy season. "Sixty-two businesses that we're aware of with $1.5 million of economic loss from the Mountain Fire," said Peter Lent from the Cal Fire office of emergency services.
The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available in Riverside County, the neighboring California counties of Imperial, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego, and the neighboring Arizona county of La Paz. "We can help businesses who lost income, who lost working capital, who are probably going to have a struggle recovering from the Mountain Fire," said Cynthia Cowell, from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
While the loans could help the community recover some temporary losses, some say it's not a permanent solution. "I'd be much happier to have the town full of tourists and people," said Lackey. "I think that's what the town need. We need that more than we need a loan."
As for getting people to come back up the mountain, Lackey offers this. "We've had perfectly nice weather up here, and we're just anxious for them to get back up here."
Eligibility is based on the financial impact of the disaster only and not on any actual property damage. These loans have an interest rates of 4% for small businesses and 2.875% for private, nonprofit organizations, with terms up to 30 years, and are restricted to small businesses without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship.
Applicants may apply online using SBA's secure web site at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.
The Inland Empire Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is offering free, personalized counseling to help affected business owners in their recovery. Business owners may contact the SBDC in Riverside from 8 am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, by telephone at (951) 781-2345 or by visiting the Inland Empire SBDC Riverside Service Center at 3780 Market Street, Riverside, CA 92501.
For owners of these impacts small businesses, disaster loan information and application forms are also available from SBA's Customer Service Center by calling (800) 659-2955 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals who are deaf of hard-of-hearing may call (800) 877-8339. For more information about SBA's disaster assistance programs, visit http://www.sba.gov/disaster.
The filing deadline to return economic injury applications is May 19, 2014.