Chinatown merchants are netting their first funds from The City meant to aid them after the Central Subway’s year-long delay shuttered nearby businesses.
The grant funding from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is part of a program intended to offer assistance to small merchants affected by delayed construction citywide, which was announced by the late Mayor Ed Lee in September.
“I know Mayor Lee would have wanted to personally deliver these checks to merchants,” Todd Rufo, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said in a statement.
In its first round of disbursements, 15 businesses received a total of $82,500 so far from the recently formed Small Business Construction Mitigation Fund, the Mayor’s Office told the San Francisco Examiner.
Raymond Hong owns Rainbow Express Photo at 800 Stockton St., just a block from the underground tunneling to create the Central Subway Chinatown station. The Central Subway will stretch down to Union Square and through South of Market when it opens in 2019.
Today, however, that construction has scared off foot traffic, Hong said.
“It’s so scary, everything for me, it’s really so scary,” Hong told the Examiner. “A lot of merchants are closing down, they cannot survive at all.”
Under the mayor’s program, however, San Francisco’s various agencies that regularly tear up city streets must have a contingency plan to aid small merchants who might see their business hurt by nearby construction delays.
Funding is based on need, and comes in the form of grants aimed at specific changes to attract new customers, from improving store signage to improving disability access.
Six Chinatown businesses received $10,000 in aid so far: Tai Sang Co., Golden Way Trading Co., Feng Ze Electric, Gum Sum Jewelry, Kang Hua Trading Inc., Tune Get Jewelry and AA Bakery & Cafe.
Nine businesses received $5,000: Dots Printing, Gourmet Kitchen, Hop Hing Ginseng Co., Mei’s Groceries Inc., Mix’s Fashion, New Fortune Dim Sum & Cafe, Man Cheong Ginseng Co., and Rainbow Express Photo, which is owned by Hong.
Hong said he would use the $5,000 he received to offset other costs, so he can pay his rent. He said he’s lucky his landlord is “really nice,” but that may not help for long.
“I am 58 years old. If I close down my business, I can never find a job,” he said.
Hong Kong Fashion, a clothier just down the street from Hong, closed in August and its owner said subway construction was to blame.
Jim Lazarus, vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the new grants offer some needed hope.
“A business in some cases might be able to plan for good years and tough years, when you’ve got construction,” Lazarus said. “But when projects get delayed, especially, then the business is harmed.”
Additional applicants will net their directed business support in 2018, according to the Mayor’s Office, including businesses along Union Square and Fourth Street.