On Dec. 6, the Bradley family signed a lease on their dream: a 10,000-square-foot space in Lake Highlands, the sleepy northeast Dallas neighborhood they call home. Their plan was to create a brewpub called Vector Brewing. They were approved for a $1 million Small Business Administration loan, found staff and were preparing to open this fall with a 2,300-square-foot patio, beer brewed in-house, a menu full of pizzas and snacks in a family-friendly space in a neighborhood begging for more food and drink options.
Just 14 days later, on Dec. 20, the federal government shutdown began, and the Bradleys' well-planned dream began to fall apart. With their SBA loan now in limbo — the SBA is a federal agency, and employees are on furlough, according to the SBA's website — this young family is in jeopardy of losing their new business, along with every cent of their savings and retirement funds.
With no end in sight to the shutdown, Veronica and Craig Bradley are asking for help.
"My birthday is in two weeks, and a few have asked me what I want," Veronica wrote on Facebook yesterday. "I want a dollar for my small business. For Vector Brewing. Because our SBA loan is in limbo while the government is shut down.
"We were on the road to being 100 percent funded without investors, doing it ourselves, plowing ahead through all of the many daunting obstacles we've already passed — and there were so many obstacles," she wrote candidly. "Well, our funding has stalled, we can't get our money, and every single day is costing us more than we have.
"Vector Brewing is in jeopardy, and it isn't our fault and it hurts very badly," she wrote. "And it feels like a death."
A few years ago, Craig, a beer industry veteran who until recently was the creative director at Lakewood Brewing, and Veronica, a freelance advertising copywriter with a journalism degree, started talking about their dream of opening a brewpub. Plans stalled when Veronica became pregnant with their second child, who's about to turn 2, but a major heartbreak changed things.
"Then around a year ago, we lost Craig’s mother, and it put things into perspective," Veronica says. "Life is short. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. What the heck were we waiting for? So we revisited our idea, talked to financial advisers, lawyers, accountants. All signs pointed to yes. Craig left his job at Lakewood Brewing in June so we could devote ourselves to Vector. We’re both freelancers, so our time is flexible enough to make Vector a priority."
They did everything right: got their finances in order, researched funding, talked to investors and eventually spent six months working to qualify for a $1 million SBA loan, for which they were approved in August. But several more months of work were needed to become eligible for the loan, which required things like life insurance for the couple that repays the bank in case something happens to the Bradleys.
"We actually thought the loan had been submitted in early December. I’m not sure why it wasn’t," Veronica says. "But then the bank wanted to increase the loan, so we redid the agreement paperwork and were ready to submit again during the holidays. Then the government shut down, and we couldn't submit at all. And it stayed shut down. And it’s still shut down. Now we’re just waiting while the calendar keeps flipping. And if/when they reopen, it’s a race to get submitted [with] everyone else who’s doing what we’re doing."
To be eligible for the SBA-backed loan, the Bradleys had to turn away investors and the possibility of crowdfunding.
"But now that it looks like the SBA isn’t going to reopen anytime soon, we’re exploring other avenues of funding — things we had previously abandoned," Veronica says. "So it feels like I’ve wasted six months of my life digging up old tax records and trying to justify paying for childcare to bank people so they’d give me a loan, which I might not get now."
The Bradleys aren't the only entrepreneurs whose business prospects are in limbo because of the shutdown. The SBA doesn't directly fund small business owners but "covers as much as 90 percent of loan losses," according to the Wall Street Journal, and because of the shutdown, about $2 billion in SBA lending is already delayed, WSJ reports.
In the meantime, the Bradleys are paying rent for the business lease they signed just days before the government shut down. Construction was supposed to start next month. They have signed agreements with contractors and brewery equipment companies. They hired people, people with families and bills of their own, who were supposed to start work soon. There are bills to pay, very soon, and no money to pay them. That's scary enough, but it's even scarier considering that the Bradleys mortgaged their entire lives to get that loan, cashing out their retirement savings in order to be eligible. Come October, when the brewery is supposed to be open, they'll have to pay taxes on that money, regardless of whether the government is still shut down and the brewery is still in limbo.
"We were there — we were right there," Veronica says, sounding exhausted and on the verge of tears. "It's taken 6 months to negotiate this SBA loan. We thought we were done with fundraising. It's like we were at the finish line, and then the finish line moved."
After posting a plea for help on Facebook on Wednesday with a link to thebrewery's new PayPal
account, Veronica immediately saw hundreds of dollars in donations, many coming from strangers. All she asked for was a dollar from each person, but people were donating far more.
"I've been really upset, and I just needed to like, let people know that things are not OK, because everyone thinks things are OK," Veronica says. "It's really hard to ask for help, but I'm just blown away by the people willing to help. If anything, it's kind of given me hope again that maybe this idea won't die. Because, man, it's looking pretty grim right now."
This morning, the Bradleys added an ominous red link to the top of the brewery's website: "Help us." The link includes a summary of their story and a link to the company's PayPal account.
"If you’d like to donate a dollar to help Vector get building and brewing, give some jobs to some folks, and give Lake Highlands a go-to place to eat, drink and make merry, we humbly accept your help," the Bradleys wrote.
Even if the government shutdown ends tomorrow, 60 to 90 days are needed for the SBA loan to close, Veronica says, which significantly alters their original schedule. Bills are due in March. And Veronica and Craig are left with the knowledge that, even though they did everything right, the decisions made in far-away Washington may kill their dream and leave them with two young children and not a single penny in their savings account. They know that taking funding from other sources could jeopardize their SBA loan (and their future opportunities to get another), Veronica says, but with bills due, their hands are tied.
"Realistically, and what we’re trying to do now, is explore every channel of raising money that we can, which could delay us who knows how long," Veronica says. "It could mean losing our location and having to find a new spot and renegotiate all of that, which took months and cost money. Not to mention impact our business model and concept — new location, new audience, different space, etc."
"If the SBA goes back online within a month, we would only be delayed a few months. But it impacts our finances — we have six months once we get our keys where we don’t have to pay rent," she says. "If that clock starts and we don’t have the money to pay for construction, well, you see how that gets out of control quickly.
"Worst-case scenario," Veronica says, "no brewpub and we’ve lost our life savings and we start over. It isn’t the end of the world, but it would be the end of Vector Brewing."
"There's a powerlessness you feel, and it's crippling," Veronica says. "That's what's so frustrating. We didn't do anything wrong. We've done everything we were supposed to do."
Vector isn't the only U.S. alcohol producer hurt by the shutdown. "Some wineries, breweries and other producers are jammed up by the closing of a Treasury Department agency — part of the 25 percent of the government that’s unfunded — that approves labels for new products to be sold across state lines and permits for new booze-related facilities," The Dallas Morning News reported, noting that Deep Ellum Brewing Co.'s new Fort Worth location is also in limbo during the shutdown. Other local breweries are unable to get label approval for new beers.
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Personally, the Bradleys are doing OK at the moment, living off Veronica and Craig's freelance income, Veronica says. Their immediate goal is to raise enough money through crowdfunding to pay invoices, pay the landlord and put in the next payment for their brewing equipment.
"But we can’t do that without money," Veronica says. "Craig and I make enough to pay for our personal lives, but not enough to start a brewpub. If the SBA doesn’t reopen soon, we have to completely start over (and even if Vector completely dies, we cashed in our retirement; we’re going to owe so much in taxes that … I’m not thinking about that right now).
"We cannot keep waiting for something that might not come, you know?" Veronica says. "And who knows how long it would take to get funded a second time?"