A $15,000 bailout from Barstool Sports is “saving” beloved Newburyport sports bar Park Lunch, owners say, as small businesses like this one have largely been left to fend for themselves throughout the pandemic.
“Dave Portnoy really stepped up — a local kid that made good for himself is now doing good for us. He’s saving our butts while Charlie Baker, the government — they’ve done nothing. They have failed us,” said Park Lunch owner Daniel Wilmot.
Portnoy, a Swampscott native who sailed to stardom after starting the blog Barstool Sports, has been a visible and vocal critic of restrictions placed on businesses like Wilmot’s throughout the pandemic and on Dec. 17 “put his money where his mouth is” and launched a small business relief grant fund.
Quick update #barstoolfund pic.twitter.com/5moMrpcBYk
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) December 18, 2020
In less than two weeks the fund has grown from $500,000 in initial seed money to nearly $11 million as of Wednesday night thanks to more than 90,000 contributors.
The fund has already supported 47 small businesses across the nation — including three from Massachusetts: Diggity Dogs Service Dogs in Shelburne Falls, Casa Mia in Marblehead and Body N Beyond Massage Therapy. It’s set up to help thousands more in short order.
Wilmot’s daughter Julie posted a video to YouTube and submitted Park Lunch’s application at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and in less than 24 hours, Wilmot said he’d already received his “congratulations” message from a Barstool executive indicating the funds would be distributed soon.
Bills are piling up for businesses facing ever-changing coronavirus restrictions that have cut the bottom line for many small businesses. Restaurants, already among the hardest hit, face a cold winter ahead with a new set of regulations limiting guests to 25% of total capacity that went into place on Saturday.
“It’s been challenging day in and day out and not just for us, for our workers too,” Wilmot said. All 29 employees at Park Lunch are still on the payroll — a requirement for the Barstool Fund grant — but Wilmot is more than $33,000 in debt and two months behind on meals tax payments. He is also carrying a balance with liquor and food suppliers.
“I didn’t want to be greedy,” Wilmot said, but without help he says he would be closed in one to three months. The state last week announced a $668 million fund, but the applications didn’t open until Thursday. Park Lunch did not qualify for an earlier round of state grants.
It’s a reality facing small businesses across the nation. A Harvard study tracking the economic impact of coronavirus revealed the number of small businesses in America dropped 29% between December 2019 and 2020. In Massachusetts, the number is even higher at 37%.
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