Showing Up for Our Small Businesses

How We’re Providing Relief and Supporting the Recovery of San Francisco’s Small Businesses

London Breed
14 min readApr 30, 2021

San Francisco can’t recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 on our economy without our small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy — making up more than nine out of ten San Francisco businesses, employing more than half of the city’s workforce, and generating tens of billions of dollars in economic activity each year — most of which remains in our city.

After more than a year of this pandemic, and despite our best efforts to help along the way, businesses are still suffering — with many still at risk of permanently closing. We owe it to these businesses to do everything we can to help them recover and grow.

Mayor London Breed in Japantown after signing legislation to create the $10.9 million SF Relief Grants program

From the very start of the pandemic, we took swift and early action to support businesses and their workers, and we continue to provide businesses with local funding and help them access resources from the state and federal government. Thankfully, with the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the American Rescue Plan passed and more help is here for our small businesses.

Whether it is finding new funding sources for grants and loans, or being there to help people navigate the application process for grants and loans, we’re committed to supporting small businesses however we can. This support will not only help individual business bounce back, but it will also benefit our entire economy and help San Francisco recover even stronger than before.

Recent Local Support for Small Businesses

We know the need is great and we need to do everything in our power to help our small businesses make it through. Over the course of this pandemic, we’ve directed more than $50 million in grants and loans for thousands of small businesses.

Recently, we directed $24.8 million in local funding to support small businesses. This includes funding $10.9 million for our SF Relief Grants and supporting a new loan program, $3 million for the Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund, $2.3 million for our Shared Spaces equity grants program, and $1 million for small businesses that have been victims of property crime.

We are accepting applications for SF Relief Grants through May 7.

Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund is accepting applications through May 5.

Later in May, we will launch over $10 million in very low to zero-interest loans for small businesses through an initial investment in a partnership with the state backed California Rebuilding Fund.

We’ve waived approximately $8 million in fees for businesses. Additionally, we provided approximately $46 million in deferred business registration fees for 100,000 businesses, deferred business taxes for 20,000 businesses, and have given 19,000 businesses additional time to pay roughly $16 million in fees.

In addition to our COVID-19-specific efforts to address the immediate and urgent needs of businesses, we’re also looking ahead to our long-term economic recovery, and taking steps today that will help small businesses in the future. This includes several initiatives to make it easier to operate and open businesses during COVID-19 and beyond, such as working to make the Shared Spaces program permanent and advancing the Small Business Recovery Act legislation, which I introduced in March to build off of the success of Prop H legislation, and is now at the Board of Supervisors. More information on San Francisco’s local support for small businesses is listed further below.

Helping Businesses Access State and Federal Funding

Our local support goes along with expanded financial assistance from the federal government from both the American Rescue Plan and COVID-19 relief that was passed by Congress in December. We are so grateful for President Biden and Speaker Pelosi’s leadership on the American Rescue Plan. This federal stimulus is helping our businesses access new loans, provide relief for businesses that have been particularly hard-hit like entertainment venues and restaurants, and fund extended unemployment benefits.

Governor Gavin Newsom has also provided funding from the state to support small businesses throughout California. I am hopeful that this continued support will make a meaningful difference for businesses that are barely hanging on.

Using our one-stop resource for businesses and employees, we’ll make sure that San Franciscans receive the help they need to access this new funding and other resources we have available, including technical assistance.

Small business owners and employees looking for assistance should go to Businesses can also call the hotline at 415–554–6134, and employees can call the hotline at 415–701–4817. Assistance is available in multiple languages.

Mayor London Breed, Governor Gavin Newsom, and Senator Scott Wiener visit small businesses in Chinatown

Small Business 30-Day Challenge

As we work to make changes to laws and create new programs, it’s important that all of us do our small part to support our small businesses. That’s why I’m supporting the Small Business Challenge, which is being led by our Small Business Commissioner Sharky Laguana and SFMTA Board Director and small business owner Manny Yekutiel.

The Challenge is simple: for the month of May, try to shop only at local businesses and restaurants. I know this might seem hard, but it’s less about hitting 100% of your purchases and more about changing your mindset in how you shop. Every time you need to make a purchase, think about if you can go somewhere in your neighborhood instead of going online. During this pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time walking around the City and trying to support our local businesses. I know they need it, but it also makes me proud. So please, check out the Small Business Challenge and give it a try.

Mayor Breed picking up a book at Green Apple Books in the Inner Sunset

Small Business Week — May 1–7

This year’s San Francisco Small Business Week will take place from May 1–7 and is a partnership between business and government organizations to recognize and support the thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs in our city. Small Business Week will include resources and information for small business owners at every point in their small business journey. More information is available at

The week is kicking off with the installation of 13 floral butterflies placed throughout San Francisco’s merchant corridors, which are constructed of natural materials and fresh flowers and are built by local artists and designers. A map of the wings can be found online, so go check them out while supporting your local businesses.

COVID-19 Response — Stepping Up to Help Small Businesses

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve launched several initiatives and programs to help businesses in San Francisco. Some of the immediate actions we took were one-time, like paid sick leave for employees of small businesses, while others have evolved into ongoing support over the past 10 months, like creating the one stop resource for businesses or the SF Hardship and Emergency Loan Program (SF HELP). As it became clear early on that small businesses in San Francisco were going to need help to survive through COVID-19, we got to work creating programs and policies that would provide immediate support for businesses.

On March 11, 2020, before we issued the first Stay at Home Order, we announced a series of measures to support San Francisco’s small businesses. This included deferring businesses taxes for small businesses, deferring business licensing fees, investing in a fund to provide businesses with grants of up to $10,000 each, and launching a one-stop City website for businesses and workers seeking resources, contacts, and updates during the COVID-19 emergency:

In March 2020, we established the Give2SF Fund to accept philanthropic contributions. Financial security for workers and small businesses was one of the three original priority areas of the fund, and we continue to direct funding from Give2SF to our ongoing programs. We’ve raised $32.6 million for the Give2SF Fund, of which more than $8 million has gone to small businesses.

On March 16, 2020 we created the Workers and Families First Paid Sick Leave Program, providing private sector workers with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave.

On March 17, 2020, the day the Stay at Home Order went into place in San Francisco, I issued a moratorium on commercial evictions for small and medium sized businesses that cannot afford to pay rent due to COVID-19.

The Port, Airport, and Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Recreation and Park Department also implemented approximately $40 million in rent deferral and forgiveness programs for small and local business tenants, and the Public Utilities Commission offered almost $1 million in discounts on utility bills to non-residential customers with less than 50 employees.

Treasurer Cisneros and I notified small businesses with up to $10 million in gross receipts could defer their first quarter business taxes, benefitting approximately 8,050 businesses with an average $5,400 tax payment deferral each.

In early April 2020, we started the SF Hardship and Emergency Loan Program with initial investment of $8.5 million, which provides businesses with up to $50,000 in zero-interest loans for individual small businesses.

We directed $2.5 million for Resiliency Grants, providing up to $10,000 grants to over 300 small businesses, $1 million for Neighborhood Mini-Grants for over 300 businesses in underserved communities and for women-owned small businesses.

We created the African American Small Business Revolving Loan Fund, and have now directed $6.3 million to support Black-owned businesses in San Francisco.

In April 2020, I issued an order that capped the commission at 15% on third party food delivery companies since we know that every dollar counts and can make the difference between a restaurant staying open or shuttering and MTA worked to establish temporary spaces in front of businesses to ensure the ease of curbside pickup options.

We provided $2.75 million in grants and low-interest loans for working artists and arts and cultural organizations financially impacted by COVID-19.

Along with Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, we created a new program with $1 million from Give2SF to support family child care educators. Family child care educators are small businesses in San Francisco that provide early care and education.

In May 2020, San Francisco launched Great Plates Delivered SF to deliver prepared meals to older adults who are unable to prepare food on their own. The meals are prepared by nearly 80 local food providers and restaurants, of which more than 80% are minority-owned businesses.

Our Continued Investments During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued on longer than we thought it might back in March 2020, we realized we needed to continue the support that we had initiated early on. We further extended the deadline for businesses to pay registration fees. This helped the approximately 93,000 registered businesses who pay nearly $46 million in Business Registration Fees.

We also extended the Unified License Fee deferral to November 2021, which will give approximately 19,000 businesses additional time to pay roughly $16 million in fees. No interest payments, fees, or fines will accrue as a result of the deferral.

Recognizing that businesses were still struggling financially and were concerned about making rent on their commercial spaces, we asked the Governor to give local governments the authority to extend our local moratorium. Now the commercial eviction moratorium has been extended statewide through June 2021.

Although some of our businesses were able to reopen for a period last summer, others like nightlife and entertainment venues remained closed. We recognized the need to provide targeted support to these businesses. Earlier this year, the legislation that Supervisor Mandelman and I introduced to waive $5 million in fees and taxes for entertainment and nightlife venues and small restaurants passed at the Board of Supervisors, giving businesses the peace of mind that they don’t have to worry about these fees. We also created the Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund (mentioned above).

We’ve used our funding wisely, and have used financing mechanisms to leverage initial investments and turn them into more resources that we can then give to small businesses. This allowed us to expand the San Francisco Hardship and Emergency Loan Program (SF HELP) for a total of $15.2 million.

We’ve also continued to support businesses and nonprofit organizations with programs that were in place before the pandemic, such as the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative and Grants for the Arts. In August 2020, I announced $3.1 million in grants for nonprofit space acquisition and lease stabilization, including support for Latino-led organizations expanding their space and services at new affordable housing sites in the Mission District. In April 2021, I announced another $1.96 million for nonprofit organizations.

We announced $12.8 million for Grants for the Arts, which supports 227 grantees with an equity lens.

We directed $2.1 million in grants and design services through the SF Shines Program and Shared Spaces Equity Grants to support neighborhood businesses that need to purchase furniture and fixtures and reconfigure space in order to meet health requirements for operating. These funds can still be used for businesses to be reimbursed for costs associated with their Shared Space or other storefront improvements they need to make.

In November, we launched the Shop and Dine in the 49 campaign to encourage people to shop locally and support neighborhood stores and restaurants.

Getting on the Road to Recovery

As we’ve worked to create programs that will meet the immediate needs of our businesses, we’ve also been looking toward our future, and working to set ourselves up for recovery. That means we’re always looking for ways to make it easier and less burdensome to be a business owner in San Francisco. Thanks to the hard work of the Economic Recovery Task Force, which we convened last spring, we have a roadmap for our recovery — with concrete policy recommendations and suggestions from various sectors of our economy, including small businesses.

One of the things the Task Force found, and which we’ve known has been an issue even since before the pandemic, is that businesses in San Francisco have to face complex bureaucracy and seemingly endless permit applications and processes. To help businesses survive the pandemic so they’re around for our recovery, we need to reduce stress and costs for businesses, not make them jump through costly hoops.

Shared Spaces

In March 2021, I announced legislation to make the Shared Spaces program permanent. We created the program in June last year and since then, Shared Spaces have brought people so much joy and an opportunity to safely enjoy their neighborhood and support local businesses during an otherwise incredibly challenging time. They have also been a lifeline for business owners, providing restaurants, cafes, and stores with the space they need to offer outdoor services and keep their businesses going. The program developed an easy-to-use permit application, and helped streamline the permit process so it was easier on our small businesses. Seeing people dining and enjoying themselves outdoors has been amazing, and I know this program will be an incredible asset for our city as we recover and move forward.

Proposition H — Save Our Small Businesses

Our system for permitting small businesses to open and operate was broken before the pandemic, but now it’s a matter of life and death for countless restaurants, retail establishments, and other businesses that we know and love in our community. That’s why I introduced Prop H –Save Our Small Businesses — -in June, and why an overwhelming majority of voters supported it, because we don’t have time to waste. In November 2020, I issued an Executive Order to implement Prop H within 30 days. We’re moving quickly to implement these changes now and help our small business community not only survive, but also recover and help get our economy back on track.

Small Business Recovery Act

The streamlined process that we created with Proposition H is helping small business owners throughout San Francisco, from adding a second restaurant location and transitioning from a retail establishment to a restaurant, to opening a new storefront.

In March 2021, I introduced the Small Business Recovery Act, which is currently pending at the Board of Supervisors. With this legislation, we’re expanding that simplified process to even more neighborhoods and making it even easier to start or operate a business in San Francisco. Especially as we look to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, it’s critical that we make it as easy as possible for small businesses to open or adapt, so that they can make it through and we can come out of this pandemic even stronger than before.

Advocating for Small Businesses

Throughout the past year, we have worked with local, state, and national partners to advocate for regulatory relief from both state and federal government around employment benefits, including unemployment, sick leave, disability, and other matters to ensure employees going to work are safe and protected. Since the early months of the pandemic, we advocated for additional resources for small business and workers through the federal CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan.

Over the past year, I have joined Mayors in the Bay Area, throughout California, and across the nation writing countless letters, making frequent phone calls, and communicating directly to our representatives outlining San Francisco’s priorities and needs. This pandemic required us to use every advocacy tool available to ensure that our residents and businesses received the support they required to stay safe and healthy, as well as able to make a living. We’re grateful for Speaker Pelosi’s leadership and her efforts to secure the funding our business, transit agencies, and state and local governments so desperately need.

We worked with the state to get personal protective equipment for small businesses and their workers. In August, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, and my office announced the delivery of over one million surgical masks, 600,000 face shields, and 150,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for distribution to businesses and workers in the city’s most vulnerable communities, including in the Mission, Bayview, and Chinatown.

Mayor Breed helping distribute personal protective equipment to small business owners in the Mission

We continue to advocate for support from the state and federal government. Any additional dollar we receive will make a difference for businesses that are in danger of closing for good.

Keeping a Focus on Equity

From the beginning of our COVID-19 response, we’ve made sure we focused on equity — and our approach to supporting businesses is no different. We’ve been intentional about supporting businesses that have been unable to access traditional financial capital and have funded minority-owned, women-owned, and immigrant-owned businesses, among others. For example, our SF Relief Grant program is targeted at helping businesses that have been excluded from state and federal programs.

From the start, many of our loan and grant programs were designed to expand access to cash for small businesses who may have difficulty accessing more traditional loan products, and help sustain them through the ongoing public health crisis. More than 60% of the awarded business owners come from low-income households. SF HELP loans have gone to businesses in every district in San Francisco, and have successfully supported 288 women- and minority-owned businesses. 52% of SF HELP recipients were women-owned businesses, and 75% of loan recipients were minority-owned businesses.

Using funding from Give2SF, we’ve been able to direct private philanthropic contributions to help small businesses, and to fill the gaps in federal and state financial assistance. We were able to help people who may not have been able to access traditional financing. We were there for our small businesses that couldn’t access traditional financial capital before, and we’ll continue to be there for those who need help.

Resources for Small Businesses

Small business owners and employees looking for assistance should go to Businesses can also call the hotline at 415–554–6134, and employees can call the hotline at 415–701–4817. Assistance is available in multiple languages.