NEW YORK — Anyone who says business isn't personal has probably never owned their own business.
For the last few weeks, thousands of small business owners have poured out their hearts and shared their struggles during the pandemic, in the hopes that someone would help. For a handful of them, that someone has been Dave Portnoy, and the team and fans of Barstool Sports.
"These small business owners, they're not looking for charity," Portnoy said. "They're not looking for a handout, they're looking to work."
Portnoy started the Barstool Fund with $500,000 to help small businesses. There are just two requirements for business owners: prove that you ran a successful business before the pandemic, and keep your payroll on.
Since it started, more than 150,000 "stoolies" have contributed to the fund, raising more than $20 million, and helping about 100 businesses around the country, including La Conca D'Oro restaurant near Albany.
"In less than 24 hours after, we sent in the video, he came and saved my world and all my employees," said owner Cheryl Bergendorff.
Time and time again, small business owners jump for joy or breakdown in tears of excitement when they receive the phone call from Portnoy, with each of them grateful that someone has thrown them a lifeline.
"Watch these videos, and if you still stay on the sidelines and don't help, donate, whatever it is, there's something wrong with you," Portnoy said. "You can't help but be moved by this."
Frank Borrelli, owner of Borrelli's restaurant on Long Island, was the first business to receive help from the Barstool Fund. The money came as he was on the verge of shutting his doors for at least three months.
"I knew our volume was going to be down 70%, there's no way I'm going to be able to pay these guys," Borrelli said.
Since the Barstool video, Borrelli said 70% of his customers have come in to eat after watching it, including a record crowd on Christmas Day. Many of those customers, he said, were regulars who hadn't been to the restaurant in years.
Now, he's paying it forward by helping food banks, families in need, and first responders.
"We're all looking to pay it forward," Borrelli said of the small business owners receiving help. "Hopefully we can all get on our feet again, and we're going to pay it forward again. That's my goal."
Although $20 million may sound like a lot of money, it's hardly enough to save the thousands of businesses struggling to stay alive because of the pandemic. That's why Portnoy is calling on the government and others able to help to step up.
In the meantime, Portnoy said he'll keep going until the donations run out.