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TheStreet Open House

Communities Trend in Small Business Lending, the George Bailey Way

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Clint Carnley, owner of Clint's BBQ & Country Cookin' in Sevierville, Tenn. will never forget October 12, 2010.

"It was a Tuesday morning and all I could do was watch almost everything I own go up in flames," Carnley says of the fire that destroyed the original Clint's BBQ, which opened in 2006.

It wasn't just his restaurant, but a lot of Clint's life that was lost in the fire. The restaurant had an adjoining garage where Carnley kept most of his tools, machinery and equipment - he also had a carpet cleaning business and is a musician -- and a small apartment Carnley frequently stayed in where he could shower and rest between jobs.

But Carnley didn't think of his loss long. His thoughts quickly turned to the 23 employees who were immediately out of a job, and their families.

Thinking of others first wasn't unusual for Carnley, according to Bryan Atchley, mayor of Sevierville, a popular tourist town in the Smoky Mountains typically linked with neighboring Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

"He had a very successful business and was good to a lot of people. He always gave and gave to others, and he never did it for the recognition."

It wasn't long after the fire that Carnley, 61, and his wife, Elaine, who is a real estate agent, realized they were underinsured. They had enough to pay off the loan on the restaurant, but he couldn't secure enough financing to rebuild.

Carnley says he has no idea why the bank decided not to fund a new venture, but it could have been stricter lending practices banks instituted as a result of the recession. "For thirty years, I was never late with a payment and the bank wouldn't refinance our loan," says Carnley.

When the bank failed the small business owner, the community stepped in. In the same spirit of giving that Carnley had always demonstrated, a campaign to raise money for the Carnleys began in Sevierville and neighboring towns. Being a tourist mecca, there are 50 to 60 restaurants in the area, but that didn't lessen the community's desire to help Clint's BBQ & Country Cookin' rebuild.

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