As people across the country mourned the victims of the Dec. 2 Ghost Ship warehouse fire, and firefighters and sheriff's deputies worked steadily on recovery efforts, Edith Gallegos saw her clientele plummet. The small Mexican restaurant she manages, Hornitos Cafe, sits just outside the four-block area that police cordoned off to all traffic, near a major business district in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood.
Less than half of Gallegos' customers showed up during that week due to the traffic closure, she said, and her business lost hundreds of dollars daily. She had to cancel all food deliveries and cut down hours for her kitchen staff.
"We are so sad about the tragic loss of life for so many young people," said Gallegos in Spanish, referring to the fire's 36 victims. "The fire has also affected us because they've closed the street all these days. Clients can't get through -- a lot of them drive here."
After the deadly blaze, auto body shops, restaurants, a clothing store and a handful of other small businesses inside the closed-off area were forced to shut down for at least five days, affecting potentially dozens of low-income employees in this working-class neighborhood.
Oakland's Local Emergency Proclamation, ratified by the City Council on Dec. 8, could help the city recover up to 75 percent of response and recovery expenses related to the deadly blaze, which Oakland is still determining. It may also allow artists who operated a business at the Ghost Ship warehouse, and neighboring shops with revenue losses related to the fire, to access low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, according to city officials.
"Residents and businesses, who have also incurred eligible damage costs resulting from the event, are given the opportunity to apply for individual assistance from federal and state assistance disaster programs," wrote Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to the City Council, recommending they ratify her office's Local Emergency Proclamation from Dec. 6.
Business representatives in the Fruitvale neighborhood said the tragedy hit the neighborhood and city in multiple ways. Since news of the deadly blaze broke out, stunned and sometimes tearful residents stopped by the site to pay their respects to the victims. Many left flowers, handwritten letters and votive candles in makeshift memorials.
"It is a huge impact, first the families of the people who died, I don’t have words to describe it," said Maria Sanchez, who leads the Fruitvale Business Improvement District program at the Unity Council, a local nonprofit. "Then the losses to the businesses around the site that got damaged, or the ones that had to close."
Sanchez worried that the largely low-income employees at those businesses would lose compensation for the shifts they weren't able to work.
"They really need the money they are earning. Many of them are parents," Sanchez said. "People count on this money to pay their bills."