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Mayor Lee to give $1.45M in aid for merchants struggling due to subway delays

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The aid would give merchants access to funds to upgrade their shops. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Struggling Chinatown merchants, as well as merchants from Union Square and other areas affected by Central Subway construction, may soon see relief to the tune of $1.45 million from San Francisco.

Just days after the San Francisco Examiner revealed Mayor Ed Lee’s citywide “Construction Mitigation Plan” to aid merchants losing business due to city construction, the Mayor’s Office is moving forward with the plan’s first implementation.

Under the plan, some merchants may net $5,000 to $10,000 to spruce up their shops, meant to help drum up business that nearby city construction allegedly chased away.

“Anything would be good to help the merchants,” said Pius Lee, chair of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association and a former police commissioner.

Cleaning streets is one of the many benefits in the construction mitigation measures, which are being offered partly because completion of Central Subway construction in Chinatown has been delayed by a year, which some businesses told the Examiner has led to them shuttering for good.

“This new plan of enhanced mitigation strategies will give additional on the ground, one on one support to our merchants,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement. “Small businesses are essential to the fabric of our neighborhoods and our city, and we want to ensure their enduring success not just during, but long after these improvement projects are over.”

The $1.45 million policy includes a number of plans to help businesses around Central Subway construction, including a business liaison to communicate with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on behalf of merchants, “ambassadors” to get the word out on specific businesses, a corridor-specific marketing campaign and more frequent street cleaning.

The art of the plan Pius Lee and merchants said would perhaps be the most helpful is the directed business support, where merchants on Stockton Street “will have access to funds” ranging $5,000 to $10,000 for specific shop upgrades like fixtures, furnishing, equipment, painting, disability access improvements and technology upgrades.

Those thousands of dollars in funds will be determined “per business, based on the level of construction impact,” reads a memo on the matter from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the SFMTA. Though some merchants citywide decried efforts to aid Chinatown as favoritism to a politically active neighborhood, merchant Steven Lee, a shareholder in the Sam Wo restaurant, pushed back on those allegations.

“There are a lot of reasons commercial corridors are struggling citywide, but in Chinatown, it’s very clear that the Central Subway delays have had a crushing effect on already struggling businesses,” he said in a statement.

The aid will begin to be disbursed sometime in the next 90 days, according to the Mayor’s Office. Meanwhile, the progressive wing of the Board of Supervisors has been planning aid to merchants citywide to help when construction chases away customers.

The plan by supervisors Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin and Norman Yee mirrors the mayor’s plan in some respects, they said, but would also enshrine the practice in law.

“We don’t want to pit neighborhoods against each other,” Peskin said in a statement. “There is a citywide need for solutions.”

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