A word with Christopher Pooser, partner at Stoel Rives, on the Main Street Relief Project

Kim Burgess//June 22, 2020

A word with Christopher Pooser, partner at Stoel Rives, on the Main Street Relief Project

Kim Burgess//June 22, 2020

Christopher Pooser

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for companies of every size, but small businesses are often more vulnerable to economic upheavals. Lacking the resources to weather the storm, many are battling to continue operations.

To help these businesses survive, reopen and reestablish themselves, Stoel Rives launched the Main Street Relief Project, a no-cost legal service for independent restaurants bars and retail establishments in the communities where the firm has offices.

Main Street Relief will focus on small businesses in each of the firm’s communities, specifically local food service such as restaurants and bars and small, local retail stores. The firm will engage in COVID-related financial fallout work, particularly triage, on a no-cost basis for small businesses that are not owned by large corporations or private equity firms and that are not franchises. The goal is to help local businesses that are not tied to national chains or large owners — those places you go when you want to shop local.

Stoel Rives’ Pro Bono Committee will manage the Main Street Relief Project and client intake. Businesses in Alaska, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah and Washington may apply for assistance.

The Idaho Business Review recently connected with Christopher Pooser, partner in the Boise office, to learn more about the effort.

What gave you the idea to do this? Why restaurants and retail specifically?

In helping our clients cope with the initial fallout from the pandemic in March and April, we saw how devastating the immediate impact was for independent restaurants. As members of the business community, we knew it would hit small retail stores just as severely. We are deeply engaged in our local communities — this is where we live, work, send our kids to school, volunteer and serve. We saw the need and opportunity to use our skills to give back to the local businesses that make each community unique. Our support takes three distinct forms: first, we’ve amassed a thorough COVID resource hub at www.stoel.com/covid-19 for those who want to find their own resources; second, we are offering online programs on common topics; and third, we are addressing specific questions on an individualized basis for qualified applicants through the Main Street Relief Project.

What sort of legal issues do you anticipate helping with?

To start, we are helping small businesses sort through their options and assess and prioritize their needs. In some of our larger offices, we’ve fielded numerous questions on employment law, the Paycheck Protection Program and other SBA options, business interruption insurance coverage and a slew of contract questions. We anticipate fielding similar legal issues in Boise. For some small businesses, our most valuable assistance is helping them to understand the relative risks and pressure on cash flow and to help determine the best immediate and long-term game plan for the business and the owners.

How many hours is Stoel Rives planning to devote to this effort? How long will it last?

The program is still in its early stages, and we don’t have an end date set at this time. In terms of hours, we’re treating this as part of our pro bono commitment — each lawyer can put in as many hours as they are able, and participating lawyers can earn up to 50 hours of credit toward their internal goals.

How are you dividing the program up between states? First-come, first-serve or do you have a certain number of slots for Idahoans?

This is intended to be a community program, so our Idaho-based lawyers will largely staff Idaho projects. We ask applicants to indicate where they’re located and direct those inquiries to the lawyers in those states to assess whether and how we can help. As long as the need fits the goals of the program and we have lawyers in Idaho with capacity to help, we’ll keep taking requests for assistance.

What sort of response have you gotten?

We’ve had a warm response with more than 40 program-wide applicants so far. We’re also partnering with local chambers of commerce and other business associations to help get the word out to their members, and in some cities, we are partnering with existing small business legal clinics to broaden our reach. We expect the requests will increase as the word gets out. Interested businesses can visit www.stoel.com/mainstreetrelief to apply for assistance.

How do you expect to benefit?

As proud Idahoans, we all benefit by helping independent local businesses stay afloat in such unpredictable circumstances.  A core value of Stoel Rives is our commitment to community service. This program is a way for us to anchor even more securely to Boise and our surrounding communities and offer our skills where they can help most during this time of unprecedented need.