Christopher Crosby, Staff Writer
Paris — Donnie Allen at Tilton’s Market in Buckfield remembered how hard it was getting a bank to believe in a closed store.
Allen, the store’s owner-operator, bought the market from the Tilton family in the spring of 2013 and reopened the completely renovated building four months later.
Without a history of ownership, the banks rejected Allen’s loan bid. As a last resort, he went to Community Concepts Finance Corp. They approved him for $120,000.
“Working with the banks for a store that was closed was extremely hard,” Allen said. “Community Concepts saw the potential of Tilton’s Market, and the market was essential to the town.”
If on Nov. 4 Maine voters pass a bond issue allocating a total of $12 million, small business turnaround stores like Tilton’s could become all the more likely. The measure would replenish the reserve account the Finance Authority of Maine can offer nonprofits such as Community Concepts and broaden the types of businesses that can get loans.
“This doesn’t create a new program; it takes one which works well and adds cash. Lack of access to capital is one of the barriers for small businesses,” Representative Nancy Smith, Co-Chair of the Legislature’s Business, Research and Economic Development Committee, said.
The funds would be added to the pool of small business loans offered through FAME, which groups like Community Concepts then lend at higher interest rates to businesses viewed as too risky by traditional banks.
“Related to risk, the banks are more secure than we are, which makes our position more risky,” Glen Holmes, Director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, said.
As a micro-loan small business lender, the subsidiary of the Lewiston-based nonprofit, which has an office in Paris, has been trying to work with the Legislature to have the funding placed on the ballot, believing local companies could open or expand because of it.
“Because we are able to underwrite the loan now, there’s a stable business in Buckfield,” Holmes said.
The 49-year-old agency has stepped in to fill a void, caused by the economic downturn and increasing bank regulations, that allows some entrepreneurs to slip through the cracks.
The money is far from free: recipients are required to repay the loans. Tied to the lending capacity is technical assistance to educate business owners on their loans.
“Businesses that receive technical assistance and funding have a greater likelihood of success for funding,” Bill Card, spokesman for the Maine branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said.
SBA partners with state agencies such as FAME and Community Concepts to cobble together the necessary loan package for the project.
“We’re putting out more money than we did three years ago. We’re making a concerted effort to do that. As banks become more regulated, they are less likely to make certain loans,” Holmes said.