SF extends program that waived $2.5M in fees to new businesses and ones struggling to stay open

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Friday, February 16, 2024
SF extends program that waived $2.5M in fees to new businesses
San Francisco is extending its "First Year Free" program which waived $2.5 million in fees to new businesses and the ones struggling to stay open.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- During the pandemic, Andrea Becerra found refuge in her kitchen as she grieved the passing of her dad.

"The food is inspired by my hometown in Mexico City. All recipes are my grandma's recipe. Every time I had a question about cooking something, I would grab the phone and call her and have a whole conversation with her," said Andrea Becerra, El Mil Amores restaurant owner.

As Andrea fell in love with cooking, she began to sell her meals to close friends.

In April 2023, her catering business outgrew her home kitchen leading her to take a big step by opening El Mil Amores restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District.

"I had never owned a restaurant. I was cooking from home and it was very different," said Becerra and added, "I talked to the office of small business and they helped me a lot. They told me that this was going to be possible."

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Andrea is one of at least 6,000 businesses who have benefitted from the city's "First Year Free" program set to expire June of this year. On Thursday, San Francisco Mayor announced an extension.

"We are extending First Year Free for another year because it has been so helpful. It has been so impactful," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed, "This is not just about providing free money. This is an investment. This is an investment of businesses that are going to hire people that provide a service to the community that helps deal with the blight in the community."

Supervisor Hillary Ronen first introduced this legislation in 2021.

"We all know that when there are vacant storefronts in the neighborhood it brings more graffiti, it brings more blight, more chaos on the streets the more we have a vibrant small business community and no vacant businesses everyone benefits from it," said Supervisor Ronen.

Katy Tang, executive director of San Francisco Office of Small Business says the fees have helped close to 4,000 new business open in San Francisco.

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"Any permit fees that are associated with opening the business those are waived, as well as the first year of the business registration fee," said Tang, "Roughly an average every week nearly 200 business actually are opening every single week. Based on a 12-month average."

Even after waiving permit fees, there are still businesses across the city struggling.

One of them is The Scarlet Sage Herb Co., a business that has been around for 28 years.

"We are closing because we don't have enough foot traffic and don't have enough business," said Laura Ash, The Scarlet Sage Herb Co. owner.

Laura Ash moved her business from the Mission to the Fillmore seven months ago qualifying her for the First Year Free program because she relocated.

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"We moved here to save the business essentially because things were already dropping in the Mission and foot traffic was already dropping and rent maintained too high," said Laura Ash.

Laura says many around her are holding on but she can't any longer despite looking for ways for the city to help.

"I think the biggest thing is the loss of foot traffic and the crime that has increased so much that it's just really hard for people to keep shopping locally. I think that if everyone in San Francisco dedicated to shopping locally - I'm not sure we would be having this problem," said Laura Ash.

We followed up with the city's Small Business Program on resources business owners can have access to if they are on the verge of closing. In an email they said:

"These services include: One-on-one business counseling.

Help with permits.

Referrals to specialized advisors ranging from financial management, marketing and branding, legal counsel, real estate brokerage services, and more.

The Legacy Business Program, for businesses that are over 30 years old (or over 20 if they are facing risk of displacement).

Connection to workforce recruitment services, to get help with hiring.

Connection to grant programs. Current grant programs for existing businesses are listed here.

Additionally, this past year, the Office of Small Business added a Commercial Leasing Specialist to its team. With this new position, the office now offers one-on-one advisement on leasing, as well as resources to address common leasing needs like site visits.

Businesses that are interested in learning more or getting help for their needs can visit sf.gov/osb or call 415-554-6134."

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