A woman in a hooded fleece stands on a rock, surrounded by mountains.

United Giving: The Resilience Fund

July 8, 2020

In its 44-year history, Granite Chief Ski and Mountain Shop in Truckee, California has weathered devastating drought years, record-breaking snowy winters that bring road and resort closures, and the fickle nature of the ski and snowboard industry. But the COVID-19 lockdown presented an economic impact like never before. 

Established in 1976, Granite Chief is one of the country’s few ski and snowboard shops still operating under original ownership. Owned and run by husband and wife Herb and Treas Manning, Granite Chief has evolved from a one-person ski tuning shop to Truckee's biggest sporting goods store with a legendary local following. 

As COVID-19 shut retail doors, Granite Chief was forced to lay off all but one of its employees. The Mannings turned to the Sierra Business Council (SBC) for insight. 

“They directed us to the Resilience Fund along with the other federal loan products,” says Herb. “The Resilience Fund application was the only one that was straightforward and not confusing. We were impressed that it was funded locally for locals.” The closure in March, April, and part of May took place when Granite Chief normally sells the remainder of its winter inventory to finish paying its vendors. “We had to pivot quickly to continue sales with a curbside-only approach,” says Herb. 

A man barrels down a mountainside on a snowboard and kicking up a cloud of snow.

Granite Chief requested funding from the Resilience Fund to purchase summer inventory and pay down some of its winter bills until the shop can sell the remainder of its winter products. “That should take us through Labor Day,” says Herb. “We are extremely thankful for the Sierra Business Council who made a big difference for us in recovery and for the Resilience Fund that is supporting our mountain community.”

As part of our $1 million COVID-19 relief commitment through our social impact and advocacy platform, the Explore Fund, The North Face partnered with SBC to support the outdoor communities along the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range that make exploration possible. SBC drives innovative approaches and solutions to increase social fairness, community vitality, economic prosperity and environmental quality in the Sierra Nevada. SBC also drives climate change awareness through the Sierra Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Partnership (Sierra CAMP). Our grant funding increases SBC’s programmatic capacity, helping towns like Truckee, Mammoth Lakes and Bishop bounce back from the devastating economic effects of COVID-19. 

“In our community, 90 percent of businesses were shuttered,” says Truckee mayor Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports. “The heart and soul of our community were under direct threat. If we lose the small businesses in our towns, a lot of the common sentiment, passion, and character would also be lost.”

Climber and The North Face athlete Emily Harrington hangs from a climbing harness.
Team athlete and climber Emily Harrington, who grew up in Tahoe, knows firsthand how small outdoor businesses are crucial to exploration.

World-class climber, and The North Face team athlete, Emily Harrington, agrees with this sentiment and shares, “Small businesses in mountain communities such as Tahoe (my home) are the backbone to our way of life here. They form the foundations that support our passion for exploration and preservation of wild places.”

The Sierra’s communities, environment, and economy’s recovery in the wake of the pandemic depend on business innovation, economic and environmental resilience, and regional advocacy. SBC’s Resilience Fund provides critical emergency economic support, guidance, and resources to impacted businesses and nonprofits in the Sierra Nevada. The Resilience Fund aggregates donated and invested money into a revolving fund for small businesses to access as low-interest microloans, most ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, for use as operating capital. So far, more than 120 local businesses have applied for loans, and the SBC is processing close to half that. The program has already returned 160 people to work in a state where unemployment might be approaching 25 percent. 

“While the public might not see a new awning or new tables or tangible upgrades, what they will see is that the business is up and running again,” says Polivy. “That’s what we’re looking to see.”

The SBC Resilience Fund also provides coaching and mentoring to organizations during the crisis, with the goal of helping them emerge intact and stronger. “Everyone who has entered the fund has a one-on-one coach,” says Sierra Business Council president Steve Frisch. “It’s a wide range of skills they’ve brought to the table.” Businesses put through the program access a network of professional consultants across industries—from technology and software to retail and logistics to guiding companies—to revamp existing operations, strategize communicating changes to their stakeholders, and maximize productivity during closures. 

Leslie Williams, a small business development consultant based in Tahoe who is serving as a Resilience Fund coach, brings 30 years of banking experience to her conversations with local businesses. In the last month, she’s helped Tahoe retailers and guide operations find capital, develop recovery plans and take ownership of their finances. 

“This fund showed up at a great time, and for all the right reasons,” says Williams. “Small businesses are savvy, but they have been extremely grateful to have someone to talk with. I’ve been so impressed by the true entrepreneur spirit—always looking for a solution, asking questions and wanting to move forward.” 

Just like Granite Chief, Polivy’s Tahoe Mountain Sports went through budgetary changes, staffing issues and general soul searching during its COVID-19 closure.  

“Rather than the traditional model of donating to national giving operations, it’s refreshing to see The North Face investing directly in a community and in businesses that foster recreation and help retain a town’s character,” says Polivy. “It gives The North Face on-the-ground credibility and shows national brands do have a local pulse. This also gives national recognition for the importance that communities and gateway communities play in the prosperity of our public land.”

The Resilience Fund wasn’t capped at a static dollar amount, allowing for on-going donations and an evolving fund. To donate, lend or learn more about the fund, please visit resiliencefund.org.