Small Businesses

For the Love of Small Business

By Sydney Vargas

When Kiyomaru Shimo lived in Japan he dreamed of owning his own restaurant. His dream came true in the Richmond Disrtict

He immigrated from Japan to San Francisco in 1977 for culinary training. By 1983, Shimo owned a Japanese restaurant on Clement Street and fulfilled his heart’s desire in the heart of the Richmond District.

He was known not only for making the best sushi, but also for hanging around and having drinks with customers while commending them on their ability to eat pounds of Hamachi. Shimo passed away and the community mourned him, but still remembers his legacy. His is just one story about how small business is all about people and their lives. 

Connie Chan, the Richmond’s newly elected supervisor, remembers Shimo as one of the reasons she was drawn to the Richmond District.  

“I was still dating my partner and that used to be our go to date night sushi restaurant,” Chan said. “We have a lot of great memories there. I just fell in love with the neighborhood and I also think that that’s where we really came together as a couple. We thought that if we ever want to have a family and home Richmond is the place to be.”

Small businesses are the heart of the Richmond District. The financial ramifications of the pandemic are wreaking havoc against them. These stores are fighting tooth and nail to survive. The pandemic is making it even harder to track just how exactly businesses are doing.

How many businesses in the Richmond District have already been forced to shut down? No one is quite sure.

Gloria Chan (no relation to Connie Chan) is the director of communications of the Office of Economic of Workforce Development.

“We do not have any current data on the storefront vacancy in the Richmond. During normal times, we’re able to track vacancies in the neighborhoods. But, because of the pandemic, we have not been able to do so.” She said the office will have a better sense of how many businesses are still open sometime next year.

Angelina Yu, a legislative aide to Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, said that COVID regulations of businesses has impacted their ability to track vacancies.

“The city is looking to better understand where we have vacancies so that we’re able to help businesses in real time,” Gloria Chan said. “We can continue to try to build up that data, but our office has to also stay in touch with the ever-changing COVID restrictions for businesses.”

The voter turnout in San Francisco this year was historic. In the Richmond District, turnout was 88.6%. This resulted in a very close district supervisor race between Connie Chan and Marjan Philhour. Chan won by just 4.45% of the votes.

Connie Chan shared credit for the victory with the neighborhood business in a tweet.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to all the small business owners who supported our campaign and talked to me about the issues facing our neighborhood,” she wrote on Twitter. “With that knowledge, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running in January and help put our small businesses on the path to recovery.”

Chan has released a general vision for supporting small businesses on her campaign website. The plan is broken up into two main topics: COVID relief and leveling the playing field for small businesses.

“A fixed financial burden that comes to them (small business owners) every month is rent,” Chan said. “That’s really the cost of doing the business, and there’s no flexibility for them. So, having the commercial eviction moratorium allows them to just be able to stay and sustain. The fact that they wouldn’t have to worry about being evicted or to have some tools to be able to negotiate their rent with their landlord becomes critical for them to sustain and get through this pandemic.”

Chan’s COVID relief plans include a commercial eviction moratorium and free legal counsel.

Some businesses are losing faith in their government’s ability to keep them alive.

Yuka Ioroi is the general manager of the restaurant Cassava, which is located in the Outer Richmond. Ioroi said that businesses need money. While she appreciates her district supervisors support of shared space programs, these problems feel beyond the supervisor’s capacity.

“Without active cash injection from the federal government, many places, including my restaurant, will close before the spring,” Ioroi said.

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