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September 9th, 2009Love a local business? Buy a share

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by Helaine Olen
Money.CNN.com

Hastings-On-Hudson, NY — John Halko was halfway through renovating an expanded space for Comfort, his mostly organic eatery in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., when the credit crisis hit. His source of funding — a home-equity line — ran out, so he applied for a loan at a local bank. He was turned down.

Halko wasn’t ready to throw in the dish towel. His solution? The modern equivalent of an old-fashioned barn raising. Instead of soliciting neighbors to lift timbers, he asked them to open their wallets. For every $500 they purchased in “Comfort Dollars,” his patrons received a $600 credit toward meals at the restaurant. As the community rallied around Comfort, Halko says, “it gave us hope.” He raised $25,000 in six months, and the new, larger space – now called Comfort Lounge — opened for business in May.

Plenty of entrepreneurs are turning to their communities for support in these tricky times. As the recession wreaks havoc on America’s economy, finding the money to launch, expand or even just sustain a small business is often a struggle. In the second quarter of 2009, venture capital funds raised the smallest amount since the third quarter of 2003, according to the National Venture Capital Association in Arlington, Va. Banks continue to pull credit lines and credit cards from many small businesses. Even proprietors who are willing to extract capital from their homes — often their biggest personal asset – can’t always do so, because the declining housing market has left so many homeowners underwater.

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