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Small Business Saturday: How San Diego Aims To Give Local Businesses A Boost

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The city of San Diego's ongoing Storefront Improvement Program offers financial assistance to local businesses who want to spruce up their storefronts to increase foot traffic and beautify the area.

Speaker 1: 00:00 It is black Friday, but small business Saturday is a nationwide effort to get people to buy local and support small businesses as an alternative to those big malls. The city of San Diego is investing in the future of many small businesses with an ongoing program called the storefront improvement program. John caravan, neighborhood investment manager with the city of San Diego joins us now with details. Sean, welcome. Thanks for having me. So black Friday marks the start of the holiday shopping season. Why is small business Saturday, which falls on the day after black Friday tomorrow? Uh, so important.

Speaker 2: 00:34 Well, small businesses, uh, make up a huge amount of our economy. Um, but it's also a lot of what makes San Diego San Diego. Um, our commercial, uh, neighborhood districts are really important in places like North park and South park and ocean beach and other beach communities. It's, it's what I'm, it creates a lot of jobs and it's a, what's really important for our local economy.

Speaker 1: 00:55 So what economic impact do small businesses have in San Diego communities?

Speaker 2: 01:00 Well, it's, it's massive. Um, employment. They're huge numbers, but, but just think about the sheer number of small businesses, 80,000 small businesses in the city of San Diego. And that's businesses with about a dozen employees or fewer, um, 10,000 of which are retail shops. And these are the places where you can go for a unique experience that you can't get anywhere else. And that's why I say it makes San Diego San Diego.

Speaker 1: 01:23 In what other ways do small businesses impact neighborhoods in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 01:27 Oh, in, in a, in a whole host of ways. Uh, one example is, uh, along [inaudible] Boulevard, um, a district that has a dedicated bus lane now, uh, through a new pilot program. So there's good access to transit. It's getting more and more walkable. And a big part of that transformation is to business district there where, um, they're investing in places that are, uh, nice to sit and have a cup of coffee, um, or um, experiences such as a digital gym over there. So you can have a whole day, um, in a walkable neighborhood or you could just stop for a cup of coffee. It's really changing that neighborhood. It's making it safer, more walkable. Um, it's just, it's exactly what we need to make San Diego's economy stronger.

Speaker 1: 02:10 So what challenges do small businesses face when trying to keep their doors open and even remain competitive with big box stores and websites?

Speaker 2: 02:18 Well, the, the nature of retail is changing a lot too. It's a lot more about experiences. It's why you see a lot more, uh, gyms and play places that feel nice to sit and have a cup of coffee, a bookstores, all the things that, um, our economy has moved away from over over a decades. Uh, we're moving back to because people are looking for that unique experience. Something that can't get online or, um, or at a big box store.

Speaker 1: 02:43 And so this is where you all come in because the city of San Diego has launched a, the storefront improvement program. Tell me about that.

Speaker 2: 02:49 It's such a great program. It's one of our most popular, uh, and we've for about 50 businesses this year. Uh, we've engaged with them to, uh, pay for drawings for how they wish that the front of their business would look. Uh, new doors, paint signs, all of the things that businesses need to, to, um, show, uh, who they are to their neighborhood and the world. And we have some just great examples, um, including, we talked about alcohol and Boulevard earlier. Uh, cafe Madeline on a home Boulevard is just an excellent example. It was an empty storefront, uh, and then they participated in this program. And now it's an excellent place where, um, you can sit down and have a cup of coffee with a unique experience that you just can't get. Uh, in most neighborhoods in San Diego, there are three different rebate options through the storefront improvement program.

Speaker 2: 03:38 What are those options and, and how does the program work? Well, there's options that the standard option is we pay for the architectural drawings and then we pay for up to half of the investment that you put into your business up to $8,000. So you can have a budget of $16,000, and we'll pay for half. Or you can go beyond that. And what we've actually found is a lot of businesses go beyond that to get that exact look that they're looking for. Uh, which just allows us to leverage our funds quite a bit. So while we've put out $8,000, the whole project might come to 20,000. Uh, so that's additional investment that we're, um, we're, we're igniting in our commercial districts. So we have that option. We have increased amounts if you're restoring historic, uh, the facade to your business, uh, we also have an option for property owners if you have three or more storefronts.

Speaker 2: 04:29 Uh, and we have a, an additional option where we prioritize those businesses that are in our promise zone. So those communities of concern throughout San Diego. Let's look at the big picture. What have you all seen as a result of the investment made into these small businesses? Well, number one, we've seen just more dynamic neighborhoods. Um, and one of those examples is a run for cover is a, is a bookstore and cafe that just opened up about a year ago in ocean beach. And they participated in the program for the first year or so of their business. Um, they had, uh, a generic front of their business, a temporary sign, uh, and as this investment allowed them to create a unique experience. So now when you're walking by, um, you, you know, you're an OB because you see a unique store that has a, a mural of an owl on the front.

Speaker 2: 05:17 Uh, it's the kind of place where you can go and get a curated, um, set of books, uh, so you can find that thoughtful gift that you're looking for. And how many small businesses have you all been able to help so far? So just this year alone, it's been about 50 businesses, but every year, uh, we're doing that. And if you think about how that adds up, um, we're hoping to make a, an even bigger difference in the future. And it's, it's really starting to add up some, some areas such as North park, South park and ocean beach have seen a huge amount of participation. And we're hoping to expand that, uh, particularly in those communities of concern. So how many businesses, maybe 20 businesses? Oh, it's been going on for, uh, for decades at this point. So I don't have a running tally, but, um, it's hundreds of businesses. And what are the qualifications for the program?

Speaker 2: 06:01 Uh, there it's pretty easy to participate. All you have to do is, um, is show that these funds are actually going to what, uh, you say it's going to and, and we have dedicated staff to Citi to walk you through each step of the process. Uh, all, all that we really require is that you're doing business with other San Diego businesses. So contractors need to be a need to be San Diego contractors, things like that. I've been speaking with Sean caravan, neighborhood investment manager with the city of San Diego. Sean, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.