San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery and other local officials met outside a salon in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Wednesday to announce plans to distribute nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in relief funds to businesses in historically underserved communities hit hard by the pandemic.
The news conference kicked off shortly after 1:30 in the sunshine in the parking lot outside Gentry’s Beauty and Barber Headquarters, which is on Imperial Avenue between Euclid and South Willie James Jones avenues, just a few blocks east of Lincoln High School. The event was also attended by shop owner Stanley Gentry; Donna DeBerry, the president of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce; Jason Paguio, the president of the Asian Business Association of San Diego; and Iris Garcia, the president of the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Montgomery, who grew up in the 4th Council District where Gentry's is located, said her parents were small business owners in the district themselves.
"When we talk about small businesses being the backbone of the local economy, I speak from first-hand experience," Montgomery said. "This pandemic has widened the gap of inequity…. As elected officials, we must do everything within our power to alleviate the burdens on small businesses to prevent doors from shuttering permanently."
Gentry's family has been cutting hair on Imperial Avenue since 1962, but never like they are now -- outdoors, during a pandemic -- and he highlighted the need for businesses like his that anchor the community.
"This is our home, people that come here are family," said Gentry, wearing a barber's coat and the protective gloves that are now a part of his daily work life. "They've been coming here 20, 30, 40, 50 years. These people are family, and without family, we don't have anything. There is no Gentry's without the people."
City officials said the money would be spent on "specialized outreach, technical assistance and direct grants," which can be used for everything from rent to payroll to personal protective equipment. The fund could possibly be replenished with an additional allocation in August.
"San Diego's small business owners have, without a doubt, learned to roll with the punches, installing new Plexiglas barriers, increased routine cleaning, requiring masks, of course, and taking temperatures, but as you can see behind me, this is a phenomenal example of the spirit of San Diego businesses," said Faulconer, gesturing at the outdoor pop-up tent and work area that Gentry had said up in the parking lot adjoining his shop.
Faulconer cited a study by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) that showed that San Diego's Black and Hispanic residents are four times more likely to live in neighborhoods that have been impacted by COVID-19 and unemployment than are their white counterparts, and Asian-American residents are twice as likely.
"One goal: How do we offer a lifeline to our small businesses that are the backbone of our economy in San Diego?" Faulconer said, adding, "I will tell you that these business owners and neighborhoods that haven't had their opportunity for the economic development of our city need out extra help and support."
The funding for the historically underserved communities is all part of a larger citywide effort to help small business owners, which began in March with the establishment of the city's Small Business Relief Fund, assembling more than $13.5 million from private donations and the federally funded CARES Act. That number ballooned to more than $20 million in June.
"We want to make sure that every business has equal access to these relief funds," Faulconer said about the special fund for underserved communities. "And that's why we have required, as I said, the funds we are using are going to go to low- to moderate-[income] census tracks, opportunity zones and San Diego's Promise Zones."
Faulconer also called on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to match the funding announced on Wednesday.