Shining a Spotlight on San Franciscan Resilience

A new video series, ‘When the Lights Come Up in the City,’ showcases how small businesses and nonprofits have survived the pandemic lockdown.

When thinking about how the local economy has fared this past year, it’s hard not to picture boarded-up windows, locked doors, and a lot of “for lease” or “for sale” signs. The majority of the news stories we read on the local economy are about people losing their businesses, and for good reason. Though the city hasn’t published data on overall business closures, Yelp data from September of 2020 indicates that one out of every 100 businesses in the San Francisco metropolitan area closed permanently, while the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce estimated in June that half of small businesses remain shuttered. Some experts have even suggested that up to 85 percent of restaurants could go out of business by the time the pandemic’s over. 

But a short video series called “When the Lights Come Up in the City” flips that narrative on its head. The three episodes, hosted by writers and activists Stuart Schuffman — a.k.a. Broke-Ass Stuart — and Meaghan Mitchell of Here/Say Media, guide viewers through the neighborhoods of Bayview, North Beach, and the Outer Sunset to meet businesses and nonprofits that exemplify the city’s recovery. Whereas Public Glass, Bayview Makers Kitchen, and Old School Cafe exemplify Bayview’s unique ability to pivot using on-hand resources, Al’s Attire, Columbus Cafe, and the Bay Area Jazz Mobile demonstrate how North Beach hustled through the darkest days. The people showcased in the Outer Sunset — the Sunset Mercantile, New Skool, and Damnfine Pizza, characterize the community’s creativity. 

While the Bayview episode premiered on July 22 and the North Beach episode dropped on July 29, the final Outer Sunset episode debut’s tomorrow, Thursday, August 5. The episodes are viewable online on the Here/Say YouTube channel

“I had a vision to do work on a project that talked about how San Francisco is going to recover, because I felt like that’s what this year was going to be about,” says Mitchell. “What we wanted to do was show a diverse set of neighborhoods with a diverse set of people to show the fabric of what San Francisco is,” Schuffman adds.

Mitchell, who is senior content manager and writer at the nonprofit journalism outlet Here/Say Media, first came up with the idea. A resident of Bayview and a journalist who has covered southeast San Francisco for years, she says she was inspired by how businesses in her area were able to simply “make it work,” even in the midst of a pandemic.

Schuffman, a longtime San Francisco lifestyle writer and SF Weekly columnist, has a well-documented love affair with North Beach, which made covering the European-esque neighborhood a no-brainer.

The Outer Sunset neighborhood was chosen because both writer’s shared a mutual amazement with the neighborhood’s willingness to think outside of the box. 

When Mitchell reached out to Schuffman, she knew his beloved role hosting the documentary TV series Young, Broke & Beautiful made him the perfect person to play San Francisco tour guide. Together, the two talk to business owners and organization directors about the pandemic’s darkest days in a lighthearted format by getting hands-on with arts projects, touring kitchens, and enjoying live jazz in Washington Square Park.

“The joke that I’ve been saying to people is that I’m the Winfrey, and Stuart’s the Bourdain,” Mitchell says. “I have those hard-hitting, issue-based conversations with people, and Stuart brings the fun energy to it.”

Per usual, Schuffman says the previous episodes aren’t getting the views they deserve because of social media algorithm’s unwillingness to promote independent media. However, if the videos get enough views, shares, and likes, the pair hope to continue the series with other San Francisco neighborhoods and the many local businesses that have found unique ways to survive these last 16 months. 

“My hope is that people actually go and patronize these places, and understand how important it is that we work together to get through this,” says Mitchell. 

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