From hair stylists to fitness studio and spa owners, people from the small business community gathered at City Hall Tuesday, demanding that local officials provide financial relief and guidance for reopening during the pandemic.
Many small businesses have shuttered during the coronavirus shutdown, while others are struggling to stay afloat as the shutdown has plunged them into financial distress.
Among the crowd of more than 200 protesters was Danielle Rabkin, owner of Crossfit Golden Gate in San Francisco, which has lost nearly $100,000 in revenue since the shutdown in March. While Rabkin received a loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in April, the funds have since run out. Rabkin has laid off all five employees and has to pay more than $50,000 in deferred commercial rent.
“I remember the morning I got approved for my PPP loan. I was in tears because I thought this was going to save my business and help me get [through] two or three months of closure,” Rabkin said. “Now that we’re almost six months in closure, it’s like the PPP was a blip. It’s not enough.”
Like many gym owners, Rabkin was frustrated with the ban on indoor operations. With 4,700 square feet of ground floor space at Crossfit Golden Gate, she said the gym can ensure social distancing during personal training sessions. Still, her gym is prohibited from holding activities indoors.
City officials have said that no further reopenings can happen until San Francisco is removed from the state’s COVID-19 watch list.
“Unfortunately, even when we come off the watch list, some businesses will not be able to open until the state removes its restrictions,” the City’s COVID Command Center said in a statement. “We know how devastating the coronavirus has been for our local business and workers. It is why we must reopen as safely as possible. Protecting the health of our workers, residents, and customers is the only way to truly drive economic recovery.”
Meanwhile, Dave Karraker, co-owner of the fitness studio MX3 Fitness in San Francisco, criticized Mayor London Breed’s proposed $446.1 million COVID-19 budget for failing to allocate relief for small businesses. Karraker, along with other business owners, said The City needs to provide financial relief such as rent forgiveness, grants and elimination of taxes and permit fees.
“Think about it Mayor Breed … Imagine you poured every dime you have, all your life savings into your business and you have zero idea what the future holds,” Karraker told the crowd of more than 200 protesters.
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development said in a statement that many city taxes and fees for small businesses have been deferred for 2020. The office also noted that Breed has launched a series of initiatives to support small businesses during COVID-19 pandemic; however, all of The City’s grant and loan programs have received more applications than there were available funds, and have now closed.
Unable to operate during the shutdown, the business Great Tan has not made any profits since the shelter-in-place order. Craig Joyner, owner of Great Tan with two tanning salons in The City, said funds from the PPP have run out and he has furloughed all employees.
“I’ve sent numerous emails to The City about our reopening plans,” Joyner told a crowd. “The thing about tanning salons is: We have no physical contact with our clients at all. It’s strictly done by equipment and it’s a very safe environment. And yet, they pay no attention to what I’m telling them about our business, about our plan to reopen. We need to reopen or my business is going to go under. My landlords are going to have to declare bankruptcy.”
Echoing the sentiments of many business owners was Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who urged the Public Health Department to provide more transparency about plans of reopening.
“I am so proud of the Bay Area and our response to the public health crisis … it is right for us to be guided by data science and facts,” Mandelman said during the rally. “But the data science and facts have disappeared around the small businesses that continue to be kept closed without any clarity about when they might be able to reopen, how they might be able to reopen, and how they should be planning.”