Faced with rapid gentrification, Black-owned businesses in San Francisco have struggled to survive in recent years. When the pandemic hit, many had to close their doors all together.
According to a UC Santa Cruz report, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses nationwide closed permanently by August of last year, and, in one attempt to combat the hardship, Mayor London Breed’s office has expanded a loan fund in San Francisco to help 70 Black-owned businesses keep their doors open. The city’s efforts have been helpful, but don’t nearly meet the level of need — when applications opened for businesses to apply for funds, nearly 400 expressed interest. Those businesses have had to depend on community support and federal and state-sponsored relief.
SF Black Wallstreet aims to support Black entrepreneurs not only during the pandemic, but for the long term. One way they do that is by hosting community events every Friday at Bayview’s acclaimed restaurant and bar Cafe Envy.
The events, called “Bring Back the Block Fridays,” take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. They are outdoor socially-distanced gatherings with live DJs, fire pits, and an opportunity to buy delicious food and neighborhood-themed drinks like the “Butchertown Mule,” a Moscow mule made with Hennessy instead of vodka, inside the cafe. Last fall the events also included vending booths featuring local Black entrepreneurs as sponsored by the African American Arts and Cultural District — but while the coronavirus still rages in one of San Francisco’s hardest hit neighborhoods, these shared space events are on hold.
Still, the Friday night events are a great place for entrepreneurs to network and for building community in one of the city’s last predominantly Black neighborhoods.
“Gathering in person to socialize is a Black cultural thing,” says SF Black Wallstreet co-founder Tinisch Hollins. “It’s healing and reassuring to be with people who share my culture, and who also share my family, social, and professional connections.”
SF Black Wallstreet was founded in June of 2020 and has a focus on increasing Black home ownership, economic development, and securing more cultural, commercial, and retail space so Black San Franciscans can “move freely and experience the beauty of our city in its full extent,” according to their website. The organization was founded by seven individuals (the majority of whom are women) entrenched in social justice and Black entrepreneurship-related causes throughout the city. Hollins, for example, has spent over 20 years in Bayview-Hunters Point as a consultant, community organizer, and public policy advocate — currently in the roles of California State Director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice and Associate Director of Californians for Safety and Justice. On Wednesday, Feb. 17, she received a “Visionary Award” from DA Chesa Boudin and the African American Employees Association.
The Third Street corridor is often described in the news media and by city agencies as “underdeveloped,” but that doesn’t tell the full story. The corridor has seen many evolutions, and is still undergoing a revitalization project started in the mid-1990s that has included extending a new Muni streetcar line, planting trees, and decorating city corners with bows and white lights during the Holidays. But some residents say the city hasn’t dug deep and invested in more important issues like gun violence, Black land ownership, and economic prosperity for locally-owned businesses. Simultaneously, these critics argue, natives are being squeezed out by rising property values.
“Third Street used to be a thriving commercial corridor with lots of diversity and strong representation of Black businesses,” says Hollins. Even the corner where Cafe Envy now stands has long been a community gathering place — before three years ago it was occupied by the Monte Carlo club which was a “daily gathering place for Black locals,” she says. “Displacement caused by rising housing costs, redevelopment, and gentrification pushed many of our homeowners and business owners out of San Francisco.”
SF Black Wallstreet does a lot more than Bring Back the Block Fridays and will be hosting several other upcoming events. On Saturday, Feb. 20, they will co-host a Black History Month Celebration at Gilman Park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with food, entertainment, giveaways, and free on-site COVID-19 testing. Later this month, on Feb. 26, guests are invited to attend the Virtual Grand Opening of their office space. The organization shares events as well as resources like grants and scholarships on their Facebook page.