San Diego

San Diego Set 6-Year High for Business License Applications in 2020

San Diego is seeing a wave of new business applications since the pandemic started, and the new business models are changing with the times

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Over the last year, NBC 7 has highlighted dozens of iconic places shut out by COVID: Places like Small Bar in University Heights, Little George’s Bakery in National City, Mangia Italiano in Chula Vista, and LeStat’s West live music joint in Normal Heights.

But newly-empty storefronts probably won’t stay that way for long. NBC 7 Investigates learned a wave of new businesses are rushing to fill those spots, and that wave is larger than anything this city has seen in the last six years.

Hoa Nguyen works the night shift as a restaurant manager, and like millions of others during the pandemic, he started searching for ways to make additional income.

Just before the second wave of COVID hit the country, Nguyen bought a Slingshot (a three-wheeled vehicle) and two jet skis, jumpstarting his home-based business San Diego Lifestyle Rentals.

“So kinda like with anything in life, right? You just gotta take chances," Nguyen said.

City data obtained by NBC 7 Investigates shows Nguyen isn’t the only one taking chances.

In fact, nearly 5,500 people applied for a new business license in 2020 – the largest number since 2015, which only saw about 2,900 applications.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that most of the applications filed since the start of the pandemic, the categories claiming the largest share of new business are “nonstore retailers” and “retail sales via internet/websites.”

But not everyone is giving up on brick and mortar concepts.

The Baked Bear franchise owner Daniel Arabi committed to opening a new location in Encinitas last spring.

“It’s an opportunity" said Arabi. "Seize the opportunity when you know unfortunately a lot of businesses are going out.”

The custom ice cream sandwich shop’s other locations adapted well to a to-go and delivery model, allowing him to scoop up an opportunity he says was just too sweet to pass up.

And Arabi said he noticed he’s in good company, saying he’s seeing a lot of fresh, new concepts coming into San Diego County.

“There is a lot of good real estate popping up and it’s our time to kind of come in," Arabi said. "Bring new, fresh concepts and make our way into the new world post COVID.”

Nguyen wasn’t surprised to hear about the surge in new business either.

He said with a lot of folks out of work, many people had to get creative and find a way to earn a living. And according to him – there’s no better time than now.

“I think this is like the greatest time in the world to start your own business or just do anything in general," Nguyen said. "Because there is so much information out there, there are so many really knowledgeable people just putting good content out there to help you succeed.”

Through mid-May of 2021, nearly 2,300 new businesses have applied for a license putting San Diego on pace to tie or break 2020’s record number of applications.

September 2020 is the month that saw the highest number of applications last year with 551. March of this year so far has seen the highest in 2021 with 613 applications.

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