From the Tenderloin to entrepreneur, Bay Area woman fights to keep her business alive amid pandemic

While hopeful foot traffic will start picking up, Leamy knows in order for her business to survive, it needs to also be online
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- COVID-19 pandemic restrictions may be easing, but for one small business owner in San Francisco, the fight to keep her business alive is just beginning.

Rachel Leamy is the owner of The Shoeshine Guild. She founded the business more than two decades after getting off the streets.

"The level of terror that I was drinking to not be aware of was pretty intense," said Leamy.


If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live

While getting sober, Leamy stumbled into what would become her life's work.

"I had some circumstance where I needed to make some money quick and so I tried and fell in love with it," said Leamy, who not only turned that passion into a business, but also paid it forward, employing others facing addiction. "There's a lot that happens here. It's a job, but there's also a lot of personal growth."

RELATED: Small business owners discuss effects of coronavirus pandemic -- COVID-19 Diaries
EMBED More News Videos

In this episode of COVID-19 Diaries, discover the effects of novel coronavirus on small businesses.



Freddy Cook is one of the employees she's supported. "Some of the customers here saved my life and helped me huge ways," said Cook, noting the customers provide a connection and the work provides a purpose.

"Well, this was a safe space for a recovering alcoholic to come earn a little money and get your butt to the meeting."

But that safe space is all but gone; the pandemic taking a toll on Leamy's two Financial District storefronts.

RELATED: 1 year later: Here's how Bay Area small businesses found success during COVID-19
EMBED More News Videos

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in so many ways, some of these Bay Area small businesses learned how to survive during this hard time.



"All of a sudden it was boom. Doors shut. Shelter in place," described Leamy.

Cook the only employee left on her payroll.

"This place was jam packed keeping four people busy eight hours a day, and now I'm sitting here for four hours and I'm lucky if I see ten people pass by the door," said Cook.

RELATED: 85% of SF's drug arrests happen in the Tenderloin. Police explain why
EMBED More News Videos

San Francisco's Tenderloin continues to struggle with sex, drugs, violence and homelessness. Police explain what's being done to address these issues.



And while Leamy is hopeful foot traffic will start picking up as pandemic restrictions ease, she knows in order for her business to survive it needs to also be online.

"What I'd like to have out there is an easy-access pick-up and delivery service so I could get business from all over the Bay Area."

But taking business virtual is proving tough. She doesn't have the money or expertise.

RELATED: Former drug addict, dealer on a mission to save Camden
EMBED More News Videos

They used to be part of their city's drug problem. Now, they are hoping to be part of the solution.



"I don't know how to do it, you know to create that business," said Leamy. "But if I had someone who could pay for it, I'd love to create that business."

And it's business she believes will continue saving lives.

"It's more than a transaction," said Cook. "It's like the barber. It's where you interact with other human beings."

Copyright © 2022 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.