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Why Some Small Business Owners Are Turning to Crowdfunding to Save Their Company In times of crisis, some entrepreneurs are finding that their greatest support system is their customer base.

By Lissa Harris

This story appears in the December 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »


The building on Conover Street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn that houses Sunny's Bar isn't much to look at -- just a squat utilitarian block of red-painted brick with a sign hanging over the front door that announces, helpfully, bar. In the froth and churn of Brooklyn real estate, buildings like it go down all the time to make way for offices and condos. But for owner Tone Balzano Johansen, widow of beloved longtime proprietor Sunny Balzano, it's sacred space. It's 100 years of Balzano family history, the place teeming with the ghosts of longshoremen and artists, a place where live music is something you do, not listen to. It's a piece of old Brooklyn still doggedly refusing to knuckle under to the new world order.

Related: 3 Steps Effective Leaders Take When Dealing With Crisis

In 2012, Sunny's Bar was wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. The flooding closed the place for 10 months and nearly drowned Johansen in her own basement. In the aftermath of the disaster, she raised more than $100,000 to fund repairs for the collapsing shell of the building, rallying the bar's motley crew of regulars again and again for fundraising events, and running campaigns on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo. She did this while living like a squatter with the elderly Balzano and their preteen daughter in a cold and often electricity-less apartment next to the bar, huddling in a long, puffy down coat while workers put the ruined building back together from the foundation up. One day, it was so cold in the building that her computer froze under a plastic tarp. It was a brutal slog, with Johansen publicly cheerleading all the way while privately grappling with a complex knot of interconnected business problems that lay beneath the waterline of public view, like the bulk of an iceberg. "We were gutted. Both Sunny and myself," Johansen says. There were days when she couldn't stop crying.

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