Black Sheep finds support in its flock during tough economy

By Nick Bush

Nick Bush/Collegian

Many small businesses are finding lines of credit hard to come by since the recession hit the American banking sector, but the owner of the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst has taken a unique approach to raising money for renovations, and one that relies on the establishments’ most consistent supporters – its everyday patrons.

One of the first things evident to customers upon entering is the colorful chalk of the deli’s blackboard, enshrined with sandwiches created with an inventive flair not found in a run of the mill fast food restaurant or pizzeria. In part thanks to the unique character of the establishment, the Black Sheep has come to be known as an enclave for the Valley’s local progressive bohemians who patronize its bakery, coffee shop and deli offerings daily.

As the owner and manager of the Black Sheep, Nick Seamon has been operating from a prominent location between Town Hall and the Amherst Police Department for more than 23 years, and has taken what some could call an idiosyncratic approach towards raising funds for renovations. Until Sunday, Feb. 21 the Black Sheep will be selling ‘Deli Dollars,’ a form of gift certificates.

The twist, however, is that Deli Dollars will be redeemable only after April 15; for their wait, patrons will get 25 percent more buying power at the Black Sheep. For example, if someone were to purchase eight dollars of Deli Dollars today, the gift certificates would be worth ten dollars in mid-April.

“Support a local business in this tough economy,” reads the beginning of a flyer accompanying the Black Sheep’s announcement of the plan, which hopes to raise as much as $10,000.

“We did this a number of times before in order to raise money for specific reasons,” said Seamon. “We have always liked to do things our own way around here, and try to consider new ideas.”

He mentioned the current difficulty many small businesses have had securing loans from bank lenders over the past year, but noted that he much preferred being supported by local patrons than the now-beleaguered banks.

“I prefer alternate sources of funding,” said Seamon. “The fewer bank loans, the better. My goal is no bank loans … Just a bank account.”

He mentioned similar instances where the Black Sheep has chosen alternative methods of funding for its growth, including when it added a handicapped accessible bathroom twelve years ago, and its expansion of its refrigeration abilities just over a decade ago.

This time around, Seamon is hoping to help pay for recent renovations to the café, which have added two new tables of seating, expanded counter space and streamlined the checkout process for patrons.

“This way,” said Seamon, “people can come in and try new things” while supporting a local business, and still benefit themselves with increased purchasing power.

“The people of Amherst are very supportive,” he said, “and our customers have been good to us over the years.”

Nick Bush can be reached at [email protected]