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San Diego small businesses prepare for $15 minimum wage starting in new year

Starting on January first, workers within San Diego city limits will receive a minimum wage increase from 14 to 15 dollars an hour. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere looks at what the wage bump means for local residents and businesses.

On busy El Cajon Boulevard there is no shortage of small businesses.

One of those storefronts is Lili Kouture, which specializes in West African designs and clothing from Togo.

Owner Lili Lare said she’s worried about the minimum wage increase set to take effect on Jan.1 as she’s already facing increased shipping fees and low sales.

“I have my own manufacturer back home and I import all the time. So it’s already affecting me," she said. "Last time I wanted to do the shipment the price doubled. And then I couldn’t because I didn’t budget for it."

While city of San Diego businesses will be required to pay employees $15 per hour in the New Year, California’s law slightly differs.

The state as a whole is due to reach $15 an hour minimum wage for businesses with more than 26 employees starting in January, and for all businesses by 2023.

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Jacob Aere
Lili Lare, owner of Lili Kouture, holds up a women's clothing garment from West Africa, Dec. 8, 2021.

Lare said she understands the need for higher wages in an increasingly expensive California, but wishes there was a way to help small businesses afford to hire people.

“You can't stop them from raising the minimum wage. People have to live too," she said. "They need that money to survive because of the rent and everything. And myself here, the rent is going to go up next month."

Next door to Lili Kouture is El Borrego Restaurant. Co-owner Rodnia Attiq also feels the pressure of the wage increases with her shortened staff and rising food costs.

“Even though that we feel like we are a family and we support each other, that is not enough. Because the people need the money to live and everything is increasing in San Diego," Attiq said. "So what's going to happen? I don't know. I think we are going to have to increase the prices.”

The restaurant may have to cut back on certain services they have offered in the past in order to compensate for their reduced staff, she said.

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Jacob Aere
Rosario Sotelo, co-owner of EL Borrego Restaurant, prepares a cactus salad, Dec. 8, 2021.

Last Friday, a ballot initiative was filed with the state attorney general’s office to gradually increase the state minimum wage starting in 2023, then rise to $18 an hour for all-sized businesses by 2026.

If the initiative gathers enough signatures, it could make the November 2022 election.

“It is great for everybody because everybody deserves that and San Diego is expensive. But for a business like us, it’s going to hurt a lot,” Attiq said, referencing the ballot proposal.