As the city and its small neighborhood businesses attempt to crawl back toward normalcy in the waning months of this pandemic, San Francisco's Mayor London Breed is challenging residents to put themselves on a diet from chain retail, and patronize local businesses only in the month of May.
Noting that the city has given some relief to small businesses through $75 million in grants, loans, and fee waivers, Breed tells the Chronicle Wednesday, "We’ve done a lot, but of course it’s not nearly enough to keep everyone in business."
She says that she's been trying to lead by example since the early days of the pandemic. "I’ve made more of an effort to go to local businesses, to go to my local hardware store, to go to Gus’s Market," she says. But today she'll announce San Francisco’s Small Business 30-Day Challenge, to encourage all city residents to take a pause from the conveniences of Amazon, Safeway, and big-box retailers, and spend their money locally starting on May 1.
This may be a challenge when it comes to some things — who can claim to still have a local, mom-and-pop pharmacy in their neighborhood? (I know there are a handful, and you should go to them, including Reliable Rexall Sunset Pharmacy, and Parnassus Heights Pharmacy.)
But small businesses nationwide have reportedly seen their revenue sink by a third since January 2020, according to the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker — a joint project of Harvard and Brown universities along with the Gates Foundation. And this trickles down to impact low-wage workers who have been laid off as a result.
The tracker also found that San Francisco was among the worst of all American cities in terms of the state of small businesses, with some 50% either temporarily or permanently shuttered since early 2020.
Newly named SFMTA Board member and Mission business owner Manny Yekutiel of Manny's fame is credited with the idea for the 30-day challenge. As he tells the Chronicle, his business has lost about 80% of its revenue over the last year, and he says, "I think San Franciscans realize that if they want these small businesses to survive, we have to support them financially."
In addition to choosing your local corner store or a locally based grocer for your everyday needs — as opposed to Safeway or Amazon-owned Whole Foods — you should think about the way you're consuming other products and food as well. Supporting local small business means being a little more conscious of you spend all your money, and it often means spending a little more for things as well.
Consumer laziness is also a small business killer. As SFist has noted multiple times in the last year, ordering delivery from local restaurants isn't helping them out as much as calling in an order and picking it up yourself would — cutting out the middle-man fees charged by delivery apps like DoorDash. And unless you know exactly who you're ordering from, you could be giving money to former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's CloudKitchens or some other ghost-kitchen startup, and thereby taking revenue away from a neighborhood restaurant that has spent a year struggling to stay alive.
So the next time you need a tool or a lightbulb, go to Cliff's Variety or Cole Hardware, and stop giving Jeff Bezos more of your dollars. Use the website Shop & Dine in the 49, which was launched by the city before the holiday season, to find local businesses to patronize. And extend this challenge longer than the month of May if you can — look at it as a great reason to get back out in the world once you're vaccinated.
Once the pandemic is over, you'll be glad that you did a little something to keep your neighborhood from turning into a total ghost town.
(Also, you can help spread the word by using the hashtag #SmallBizChallenge on social media, and apparently there will be some prizes given for people tagging their favorite businesses. Learn more about the 30-day Challenge here.)