Crisis and Community: Bayview Business Owners Persevere

In our new special series “Crisis and Community," KCBS Radio is highlighting stories of solidarity in San Francisco's Bayview District during this pandemic.

In part one, Melissa Culross reported on the deep sense of neighborhood pride. In part two, Keith Menconi looked at the community groups stepping up to meet the needs of their neighbors. In part three, Menconi examined the focus on nutritious food as medicine for the community. In part four, Menconi explained why some fear pollution in the district could put residents at much greater risk from the virus.

Today, in the fifth and final part of our series, Kathy Novak takes a look at how business owners in the district are coping with COVID-19.

As we’ve heard this week, San Francisco’s Bayview District continually faces challenges from pollution to a lack of fresh food. 

Take a walk down 3rd Street and you’ll see a lot of businesses closed.

“In a normal day we would normally be sharing a pizza and a bottle of wine,” said Earl Shaddix, Executive Director of the Economic Development on Third.

You can still get the pizza but you have to take it to go. 

Business owner Barbara Gratta makes wine and runs a tasting room in the neighborhood, and she told KCBS Radio that over the past five years, it’s become a neighborhood hub.

“Oh it’s brutal,” she said. “We’re all missing each other.”

A community that misses each other because the Bayview District is a tight-knit neighborhood.

“A lot of us just growing up here, being together, knowing each other, like an extended family,” added Marcel Banks, owner of local fixture, Frisco Fried.

Right next door, Vince Lorenzo runs Mazzei Hardware, which has been part of the community since 1936. 

Vince Lorenzo of Mazzei Hardware in SF Bayview District
Kathy Novak/ KCBS Radio

"That’s what we thrive by, we can’t survive without our community,” Lorenzo said. “It’s not like people are going to drive into the Bayview to come here, we’re not a big box store.”

Kristin Houk has lived there for 20 years, and is the owner of the restaurants Tato and All Good Pizza. She said that Bayview was already facing hurdles, such as the lack of foot traffic compared to other neighborhoods, like the Mission District. The pandemic hasn’t made it any easier.

“The foot traffic is the big one, we don’t have the density we need to support a really thriving economic corridor,” Houk said.

Joaquin Torres is the Director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and he said that the lack of foot traffic has always been a challenge in the area.

“Lower income businesses in lower traffic and lower density areas were already facing challenges in terms of economic activity,” he said. 

Torres’ department worked with local advocates to reallocate half a million dollars that had been earmarked for other programs in Bayview and got it directly to business owners like Banks.  

“The only funding I was able to get was $5000 from Phoenix,” Banks said. “That’s the only way. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have gotten anything.”

Everything else has come from community support, which Gratta said is what’s really getting these businesses through the stay home order. 

“All the businesses that are open are getting tremendous support from the neighborhood,” she said. “They want to shop local, they don’t want to leave their neighborhood.”

At Tato, they’re making food for the non profit, SF New Deal, which buys meals from restaurants with donated funds - and provides the food to people in need. 

Kristin Houk, Owner of Tout and All Good Pizza in SF Bayview District
Kathy Novak/ KCBS Radio

“For me, it’s wonderful to be able to keep staff employed,” said Houk. “I’m passionate about food security issues, so I get to sort of do the things that make me happiest, which is getting food to people who need it the most.” 

It’s one of the ways restaurants here are getting by. Locals are doing what they can, too.

“It’s just so fun to see people buying family meals, they’re coming out and spending their dollars,” Shaddix said. “Those that can’t, the community has come out in full to make sure everybody has food throughout the community.”

District Supervisor, Shamann Walton, is worried about what the pandemic might do to the progress that’s been made.

“If we’re not able to realize some of things we’ve been fighting for for decades,  it’s really going to have a more devastating impact on our businesses and the community than we can imagine,” she said.

But Shaddix is confident this community will work together to get through it. 

“It’s the one edge we have over all the other districts is that we have a strong community support,” he said. “And thank God, because that’s what’s gonna pull us through, is the community.”