HOLLAND — The Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club created a relief program for small businesses negatively affected by COVID-19.


The rotary club held an emergency board meeting over the weekend and voted unanimously to create the relief fund.


Local community members provided the seed donations, with a goal of raising $1 million for local businesses.


“Our mission is to create positive lasting change in our towns, in our world, and in ourselves,” said Jim Sullivan, Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary president.


“As a 501c3, we had a tax-advantaged way to quickly help local businesses who have fallen through the cracks in federal and state funding and who may be at risk of not getting safely through this crisis.”


The program will include a fund for grants and low-interest loans, and provide business guidance and support.


The goal of raising $1 million is 10 times more than what the rotary club has ever raised in a year, Sullivan said. They are hoping local residents as well as people who regularly vacation along the lakeshore are willing to donate.


Anyone interested in donating can send a check with “small business relief” in the subject to the Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club, P.O. Box 211, Douglas MI 49406. A Kickstarter campaign for the initiative will be set up next week so people can also donate online.


The local economy in Saugatuck is reliant on 100 days in the summer, Sullivan said. Most of the area’s charm comes from small boutique retailers and restaurants, which is all dependent on tourism.


“This week particularly, tourism has been cut off at the knees,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get people through this expected lull so they can survive into next year.”


The rotary’s relief fund is part of a larger effort in Saugatuck and Douglas among business owners and civic leaders to attract more people to move to the lakeshore on a permanent basis to stabilize a year-round economy, Sullivan said. By 2025, the goal is to attract 500 new families to the area.


“Based on recent business survey results and conversations with business owners, it’s clear that immediate funding is vital,” Sullivan said. “But we also wanted to ensure that after the acute part of the crisis is over, we can focus on long-term business sustainability via an economic development program.


“We are grateful to our members and the community for their support.”


— Contact reporter Kate Carlson at kcarlson@hollandsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @SentinelKate and @BizHolland.