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Mission District business owners share their hardships during the pandemic

Mission District business owners share their hardships during the pandemic

It’s been nearly 18 months since San Francisco first announced its shelter-in-place orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. And despite the state opening up again this past June, local businesses are still hurting.  

On Aug. 12, Assemblymember David Chiu visited the outside backyard patio at Silverstone Cafe, located in the heart of the Mission District on 24th Street. Chiu met with 12 local business owners to discuss the hardships of running a business during the pandemic. 

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Restaurant, bar, retail shop and salon owners gathered to speak to share their grievances. Chiu was accompanied by his colleague and field representative, Ramona Mora, who helped translate portions of the round table for business owners who primarily spoke spanish. 

Before opening the round table for open discussion, Chiu gave the group a brief background of his work as an immigrant rights attorney and former business owner, and shared his experiences of serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“Part of what I wanted to do today is just talk about some of what we’re doing at the state level, but also to hear from you, on what we’re not doing,” said Chiu.

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Einstein Paredes, owner of Latin American Barbershop (L.A.B) was the first to raise his hand and speak up.

“For myself it’s been challenging in the sense that I was working as an independent contractor at a barber shop,” said Paredes. “I was able to get the first round of Paycheck Protection Program and on the second PPP loan I was not able to get that. Then I decided to open up my own business, meaning I have my own space.”

Owners of various businesses along the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District corridor discuss the hardships they have faced as a result of the pandemic with Assemblymember David Chiu on Aug. 12, 2021. Photo: James Wyatt

But that decision proved costly. Paredes elaborated how he went from making $7,000 to 8,000 a month to making $1,000 a month after transitioning from an employee to a business owner. 

“One of my biggest issues with the PPP was you had to establish long term relationships, mostly with the largest banks,” said Chiu. In other words, variables from before the pandemic affected the way business owners were able to get financial assistance during the pandemic. 

And Paredes wasn’t alone in the struggle. 

“As a restaurant owner, I did get two rounds of PPP, which helped me a lot to keep my employees at the beginning,” said Alejandro Aguayo of Regalito Rosticeria. “But our total sales dropped down about 80 percent, maybe even more. I still had to pay for PG&E, refrigerators, everything had to be running 24/7 365. And we’ve been struggling with expenses a lot.”

Other business owners expressed that they received little to no help at all. 

“We got nothing,” said Connie Concepcion Rivera, Owner of Mixcotal Handicrafts and Jewelry. “We didn’t get PPP. It’s hard to survive. I just got a grant three weeks ago which was very helpful but we didn’t get any PPP.” 

Rivera then asked Chiu to help promote 24th Street’s business corridor in any way, whether it would be for more marketing with TV, radio or even a brochure. 

“If it were up to me, I would’ve had some sort of commercial business eviction moratorium to let people get on their feet,” Chiu said. “It’s been helpful for me to just hear what your experiences are. So others and I could piggyback that information back to the state.”

Chiu went on to ask the business owners at the roundtable to continue to elaborate on their experience. 

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“I asked my neighbor and they helped me sign up on the computer for the PPP and the grants,” said Carmen Elias, owner of La Mejor Bakery. With the help of her neighbor, she was able to receive information on the resources available to her. But having a long established relationship with the banks in the Mission and running a business 27 years also proved helpful for Elias. 

Unfortunately, other business owners didn’t have the same circumstances when it came to PPP. 

Some of the business owners in the meeting were able to receive prominent grants for being an anchor business among the 12 at the round table. Elias and Rivera were two business owners who were granted $10,000 from the Anchor Business Grant from Mayor London Breed on July 23. Even with these awards, it’s still tough for businesses to recover from the temporary shutdowns. 

“It’s been hard for us and I’ve been helped but there are certain doors that close on us,” said Ariel Balam, owner of Mi Yucatan restaurant, her voice shaking from fighting back tears. “I’ve applied six times for help and finally I got $15,000. But I still have PG&E to pay but other than that, I haven’t received any other help.” 

While some business owners are struggling with help, other business owners from the round table are still awaiting any type of financial assistance

“I haven’t received anything, I didn’t get any money, I need help,” said Gloria Navarro from Paraiso Cafe. “Do you know what my accountant told me the other day? They called me the day before yesterday. The money I was saving to pay up for PG&E was wiped out clean. My account was wiped clean by the taxes. We pay the government and they take. Where’s the help? 

Owners of various businesses along the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District corridor discuss the hardships they have faced as a result of the pandemic with Assemblymember David Chiu on Aug. 12, 2021. Photo: James Wyatt

As the meeting ended, just about everyone in attendance had a chance to speak their mind on what they thought would be beneficial to the business owners and the community itself. 

“As a kid from an immigrant family who had to lay off workers in the first dotcom recession, I’m reloading myself with your experiences so I can go back to the capitol and say, ‘I need more help for workers from immigrant families’ and we need to figure out how to deal with this tax situation,” said Chiu. “Why do my constituents have to ask me to have these fees waived when the button is right there and the answer is right there.” 

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