SF Mayor’s New Small Business Grant, Loan Proposal Offers Hope for the Arts

The Chapel on Valencia Street, a former mortuary turned music venue photographed on March 15, 2020, offered a parting note to the community. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The COVID-19 crisis is nearing its second year in the Bay Area, and it’s no secret that small businesses are struggling—especially during the current wave of tougher restrictions and climbing infection rates.

Today, San Francisco Mayor London Breed proposed two new small business grant and loan programs that aim to offer some relief in this challenging climate. The $62 million plan could be a boon for arts organizations waiting for funding from the state and federal governments, such as, for instance, the Save Our Stages Act grant program for independent music venues. Congress passed it in December along with its latest pandemic stimulus package, but funds may not be disbursed for months, and many concert venue owners have said that they are weeks or months away from closing permanently if help doesn’t arrive soon.

Breed’s new plan offers $12.4 million in grants for small businesses, which will be given out in amounts of $5,000-$20,000 depending on the number of employees the business had in February 2020. The grants prioritize businesses owned by people of color and women, long-standing businesses, those most impacted by stay-at-home orders and those unable to access state and federal programs.

At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Breed said that music and nightlife venues would be among the businesses prioritized. Most of them haven’t been able to operate in any capacity—other than the few selling merchandise or to-go drinks—since March. Yet the San Francisco Venue Coalition estimates that most music venues’ monthly overhead costs are between $18,000–$35,000; many of them have racked up substantial debt, and some, like The Stud, have opted to close for good.

Breed emphasized the importance of preserving the city’s nightlife and entertainment venues so there are places to celebrate when the pandemic is over.

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The remaining $50 million of the proposed program will go to low-to-no interest small business loans, distributed in amounts of up to $250,000. The goal of the loan program is to stabilize the workforce, the mayor’s announcement says, and to retain and create jobs.

Breed’s office is working with other departments of San Francisco government to cut their expenditures in order to fund this proposal. To go into effect, it’ll require the Board of Supervisors to approve a new ordinance that will be introduced later this month.