'It's been very hard': New fund aims to help Ridgefield's restaurants and small businesses

RIDGEFIELD — Restaurants could get some much needed help as they struggle with fewer diners and dollars due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The selectmen approved creating the Ridgefield Restaurant Community Support Fund at this week’s meeting, which is designed to generate business and donations for eateries and small businesses in town.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit several of our Ridgefield businesses and restaurants — restaurants in particular — very hard, and the reality is that many of our restaurants are in imminent financial crisis and quite frankly might not survive,” said Selectman Bob Herbert, who presented the fund at the meeting.

The fund focuses on two major activities. The first is increasing the demand for restaurants and businesses, and the second is providing an economic stimulus so they can remain open until their normal operations continue.

Herbert said they’ll launch a marketing campaign to collect donations of any size with 100 percent of it going to the restaurants and small businesses.

Some of the marketing ideas are a thank you meal, gift card or meal discounts to healthcare workers, emergency responders and other essential workers that are serving Ridgefield. Another idea is creating high-margin menus that will help a restaurant generate revenue. The fund will also match or double gift certificates or gift cards, he said.

Virginie Bonnaudet, the co-owner of Sucre Sale welcomed news of the fund on Friday.

“That’s great,” Bonnaudet said. “We need it. It’s been very hard. Even if we don’t close down, it’s still hard. We’ve lost almost 70 percent of our revenue since last year. So I’m very happy about that.”

Sucre Sale isn’t alone.

Restaurants and businesses are operating under limited capacity and a lack of business means their revenues are down to about 75 percent from where they were pre-COVID, Herbert said, adding he doesn’t want this to continue since the restaurants and local businesses maintain Ridgefield’s charm and keep it a vibrant community.

“We want to be able to put together a program for them where we can help them get through the very end of this,” he said. “For those people that are committed, it’s kind of like a pay forward commitment to those businesses.”

The fund would have a board evaluate each application to determine if the fund can help that particular business successfully survive and come out of this at the end. It is not a one-time donation. Those at the fund would also individually help each business figure out what is needed.

“This initiative creates a private source of local economic stimulus independent of tax revenue,” Herbert said. “It’s purely voluntary and leverages the time, talent, and treasure of well meeting friends of Ridgefield. They need their help because of no fault of their own and that’s why we’re doing this.”

Herbert said they’ll develop an economic stimulus plan that would support these restaurants and businesses.

“Obviously we’d like to set up everybody we can that have remained committed to keeping their businesses open in Ridgefield,” he said. “Many of them have said they just can’t take on any more debt.”

Selectman Barbara Manners expressed her concern if the size of the business or restaurant will affect how much they will receive from the fund, but Herbert said the fund would not help out any major chains.

“We want to keep this simple, we want to have as many people as we can,” he said. “With that being said, no matter how successful we are on the capital raising side of this, we’re going to have limited resources. We’re going to establish some very general criteria. It’s going to have to be a local Ridgefield owned and operated business. It has to be flexible. We want to be broad and go as deep as we can with it.”

Herbert said there are two goals for the fund.

The first goal of the fund is to help as many restaurants and businesses as possible financially until they can get through the pandemic. The second goal is to show appreciation to first responders, front line workers and help support the elderly homebound people in need.

“Our local economy is very much interconnected with our restaurants and given what’s happening now, we believe that as private citizens, we must know we can do something to help our local businesses and local restaurants,” he said.