By Michael Durand
While businesses in the Richmond District are facing tremendous challenges due to the shutdown to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, there are also glimmers of hope.
Recently, Mayor London Breed issued a statement announcing plans for the next phase of reopening local businesses.
“As long as we keep meeting health indicators and receive state approval, these businesses and activities can resume June 29 with safety protocols in place: hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, tattoo salons, museums, zoos, outdoor bars and outdoor swimming,” the statement said.
The green light to reopen businesses is good news to merchants who have been struggling for months.
Yuka Ioroi is the co-owner of Cassava Restaurant with her husband Kristopher Toliao. The couple has been in business since 2012. She is also the acting executive director of the Balboa Village Merchants Association (BVMA).
“We are seeing some traffic coming back recently,” she said. “We are seeing businesses open little by little.”
She said the hardest hit are the massage therapists, nail salons and similar types of businesses. Many restaurants were serving take-out orders for a while. Then, Balboa Street had a series of break-ins. She said that really dampened the mood. But there are signs of revival.
“Some businesses are applying for the Shared Space Program to be able to use the sidewalk,” Ioroi said.
She and her fellow business owners have had some luck raising funds for businesses in trouble.
“I applied on behalf of the BVMA for business grants from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the Council of District Merchants (CDMA),” she said. “We got $7,000, which we used as a grant and awarded seven businesses $1,000 each.
“Back in April, Cassava, my restaurant, Eat Americana and Kio Ramen – restaurants between 36th and 37th avenues – were doing the Meal Help Program. We raised about $10,000 from GoFundMe which paid for free meals for people who were out of a job. We also raised $6,000 for the four businesses that were vandalized to help with the repair,” she said.
Ioroi is a member of the SF Recovery Task Force, so she gets frequent updates directly from the City regarding the ever-changing rules regarding the coronavirus and the phases of businesses reopening. The Shared Space Program is one of the ideas that came out of the task force meeting.
She also said that Angelina Yu, a legislative aide in District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer’s office, has been helpful by sending out emails with updated information. Ioroi handles the social media side.
Ioroi has not heard about businesses closing. She credits the community’s support.
“We really want to thank everyone for contributing to our GoFundMe campaign.”
David Heller is the co-owner of the Beauty Network with his wife, Shlomit. They have been in business for 35 years. He is also the president of the Geary Boulevard Merchants Association. Even as local businesses are facing an existential threat, he said city leadership is leaning on small businesses instead of helping them.
“They have no concept or understanding of business,” he said. “They know how to get their paycheck and spend it, but they don’t know what it takes to be an employer, to be a merchant. They don’t understand that there are liabilities, like insurance, rent, utilities, telephone, internet – the expenses before you even open your door. The only thing they think about is, ‘We need nearly $10 billion; let’s go hit the small business community. They’ve got the money.’”
Heller said Geary Boulevard is beginning to lose some merchants.
“We had a karate academy on Geary between 19th and 20th – that place is gone,” he said. “ There was a toy business where Walgreens was; I don’t know how they can pay $10,000 to $13,000 a month rent when they’re not allowed to have anybody inside for almost three months. How are they going to recover their money?”
While he works to help his fellow merchants, Heller admits that his business is suffering.
“I’m in bad shape right now,” he said. “My shop is open. The problem is there are no people out there. I have a parking lot next to me that has been empty day after day.
“I’m at the level where I can open up, but I can’t have more than 10 people in the shop at one time – which would be a blessing from God if that ever happened.”
Heller said his wife is a specialist in skin care. She has not been able to work for three months and is not sure when she will be able to resume her job.
“When she does, I may have to buy her a space suit,” he said. “How many shields will she have to have to be able to work on somebody?”
Restaurants are now able to serve food outside, with tables spaced at least six feet apart from each other.
“Indoor dining is coming any day now,” Heller said. “When the restaurants open up, they can only serve 50%. How are they going to survive on 50% revenue?”
Heller also emphasized how important the community is for the survival of local businesses.
“We need to help and support the local merchants,” he said. “They are facing the most devastating time in their lives. If we want to keep our community alive, we need to be part of helping them out.”