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San Francisco: Surviving 2020 By Cliodhna Woods

This past year has been difficult for everyone. COVID-19 has taken over every aspect of our lives and won’t be ending anytime soon. Most years, the month of December is a time to reflect on the last year. 2020 shouldn’t be any different. This December, I sought to show how COVID-19 has impacted our San Francisco community in both negative and positive ways. I hope this photo essay will show that, despite the year we’ve all had, we can still come together to have the best holidays possible, at a distance of course.

Earlier this summer, the death of George Floyd sparked waves of protests on a global scale. At the same time, businesses boarded up their windows for fear of looting. Many artists were hired by San Francisco businesses to paint beautiful murals on the plywood that covered their shops. Artists used this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and honor those who have died at the hands of police brutality.

Black Lives Matter mural of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both killed by police officers earlier in the year. Fell St.
Black Lives Matter mural. Divisadero St.
“Love” mural. Divisadero St.

Background photo: Mural on Tsunami Sushi’s boarded up windows, Fulton St.

Along with the Black Lives Matter murals, many artists are using COVID-19 as inspiration for their art. The bench seen here is painted with doodles of coronavirus particles as the artist tries to bring a lightheartedness to the pandemic.

Artists are using their talents to create political statements and encourage San Francisco residents to wear their masks.

One portion of a larger mural. Valencia St.
“Stay Safe” mural. Divisadero St.

The art that has been popping up around the city is helping both the small businesses that lend their storefronts as canvases and the artists that create something out of them. Art for Civil Discourse, a non-profit organization, and Building 180, an art agency, have teamed up to create “Paint the Void,” a project to help San Franciscan artists through the pandemic. The project connects artists to non-essential businesses affected by COVID-19 and any other business that have boarded up their windows with the goal to uplift the streets and spirits of San Francisco while supporting the local artist groups. Their efforts to connect the citizens of San Francisco has had a massive impact. In just 3 months, they have supported 91 artists who have created 100 murals for 84 different storefronts. So far, they have raised $230,000 of their $250,000 goal.

Half of a mural located on the windows of Valencia Street Care Center. Shows 2 people wearing masks to protect themselves and their community.
Part of the “Love” mural shown earlier. Fulton St.

Although the new wave of artwork throughout the city has connected citizens in a time of chaos, there is still a lot to be done about the small businesses and their continuous fight to survive during the ongoing pandemic. Not only has there been a lull in consumerism because of COVID, but Black-owned businesses have been disproportionately affected by the shutdowns. Studies show that nearly 41 percent of Black-owned businesses have been shut down while only 17 percent of white-owned businesses were affected in the same way. It’s estimated that nearly 2,000 small businesses in San Francisco have permanently closed due to COVID-19.

For many restaurants, the opening of parklets and outdoor dining was a godsend and saved many businesses as they entered the fifth or sixth month of lockdown. However, this turned out to be a false sense of security, as San Francisco went into a second lockdown when we entered the purple tier on November 28th. Now restaurants must go back to take-out exclusively, although many don’t have the resources to do even this.

Closed down parklet. Precita Ave and Mission St.
Closed down parklet. Valencia St.
COVID-19 Rules to keep stores safe. Found at most stores.

Along with not having the proper resources for outdoor dining, some businesses are suffering due to the decrease of tourism in the city. Many restaurants in Japantown rely on foot traffic in the plaza for their business. Now that the pandemic has imposed travel restrictions, foot traffic is down and these restaurants are suffering.

Empty hallways of Japantown Peace Plaza.
Closed down restaurant. Japantown Peace Plaza.

As businesses across the world suffer, the small businesses in San Francisco are no different. Yvonne Hines is the owner of Yvonne’s Southern Sweets, which has been open since 2003 and has remained open during lockdown. She offers a wide variety of authentic Southern desserts, as well as gift baskets and event catering.

Close up of Yvonne's Southern Sweets. 5128 3rd Street
Yvonne Hines in front of her store.

Anthony’s Cookies, established in 1997, is another Black-owned business in the Mission district of San Francisco. With a limit of one person in the store at all times, Anthony’s Cookies has also remained open during lockdown.

Customer ordering at Anthony's Cookies. 1417 Valencia St.
Customer Ella H. looking at the menu in Anthony’s Cookies.

Little Skillet, located on 360 Ritch St, is the last Black-owned business highlighted in this photo essay. They have recently had to close down their outdoor dining due to new San Francisco COVID-19 guidelines, but are still providing takeout and some delivery services.

It is not hard to see the impact COVID-19 has had on small businesses this year. Small businesses across America have experienced closures and as San Francisco goes into another lockdown, many businesses are still fighting to keep their head above water.

The Gables, on Geary Blvd, is a local shop filled with art and stationery supplies, plants, books, knickknacks, and more.

Gables Office Supplies and Stationery. 5636 Geary Blvd.
Customer in Gables Office Supplies and Stationery.

Cottage Industry in the Fillmore district is a family owned boutique filled with antiques and jewelry.

Cottage Industry. 2238 Fillmore St.

As we grow closer to being in lockdown for a full year, I am proud of San Francisco’s efforts to not only keep citizens safe but also keep individuals working and businesses afloat. Seeing the work done with “Paint the Void” is awe inspiring and the new murals that decorate San Francisco always make me smile. It is our job to shop small during the holidays and try to help bring revenue to the San Francisco shops we know and love, as well as find new favorites along the way.