Asian small businesses have seen a disproportionate pandemic impact last year

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Nancy Yu has been a staple in San Francisco’s Chinatown for over two decades. His store, Asiastar Fantasy, sells souvenirs, gifts, and cultural items like red envelopes for Lunar New Year. Although she has overcome many challenges over the years, she has never seen anything like 2020.

“The past year has been a very difficult time – not just for us in Chinatown, but for the whole city, the whole world,” Yu said.

Its sales are down 80% due to the pandemic. But for several months, Yu has been opening his store for several hours a day to be present to the community, even though business remains weak.

“We want to send a message to people and finally say ‘Keep Chinatown open, we welcome you’,” she said. “I think it’s important that we stay open. We want to encourage people and other traders.”

A small business owner in Chinatown, San Francisco

Source: CNBC

The neighborhood has seen a downturn due to a lack of tourism not only in Chinatown, but in the Bay Area in general. Plus, more generally, research by Robert Fairlie, professor of economics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, shows that Asian businesses nationwide have been hit hardest of all demographic groups by the HIV pandemic. Last year. The number of active business owners fell 20% from February to December, according to its study.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said the zip code that houses most of Chinatown saw 75% of its storefronts go non-operational at some point last year. The same zip code also includes the financial district, which has also been hit hard by people working from home. This compares to the city average, where 54% of all storefronts were not operational at some point in 2020.

“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on tourism, which accounts for a significant portion of San Francisco’s revenue – 25.8 million visitors come to San Francisco [annually]”said Rodney Fong, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.” It’s painful to see some of these old businesses shut down. They are pillars of our community. “

More access to help

The latest data from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program through the end of February shows Asian-owned businesses lagging other demographic groups in terms of the number of loans approved. Over 70,000 loans have been made to Asian companies for a total of $ 3.9 billion in 2021.

Completing the demographic questions is voluntary and, therefore, incomplete. In total, 2.1 million loans were made for $ 156 billion in 2021, with more than $ 100 billion in aid remaining in the program, which ends on March 31.

A street scene in Chinatown, San Francisco

Source: CNBC

Last week, the Biden administration announced changes to the PPP to ensure small minority-owned businesses can access finance fairly. There is currently a two-week window in effect for businesses with 20 or fewer employees to request assistance exclusively.

In addition, changes will be made to the amount of funding that self-employed workers and sole proprietors can access, which is important as the administration predicts that 70% of these businesses are owned by women and minorities. In addition, $ 1 billion will be set aside for sole proprietorships in low and moderate income areas.

Other changes include allowing people who have previously been arrested or convicted of a crime unrelated to fraud, those who are behind on federal student loans, and legal residents of the United States who are not citizens, such as green card holders, to be eligible for PPP assistance.

Chinatown, San Francisco

Source: CNBC

Minority-owned businesses are more likely to be businesses without an employer, and advocates say that there may have been less incentive for lenders to make smaller loans to these small businesses under the PPP as it is. was written last year. Small businesses also don’t always have the established bank connections or the manpower to call for help, a division exacerbated during the pandemic, Fong of the San Francisco Chamber said.

“The pandemic has shown the digital divide between people who have access to and have the skills to apply for PPP, which is not an easy thing to do, and those who may have been left behind,” said he said, adding that continued changes to PPPs like those newly enacted by the administration will better reach more homeowners. “Giving everyone this equal access, equal opportunities, is important.”

When Yu applied for a PPP loan last year, she was initially turned down by a local bank, but eventually received one. She is now waiting for a second draw loan. In addition, a local grant she received helped her pay her rent.

Anti-Asian incidents are on the rise

Beyond the impacts of the pandemic on business, the Asian-American community as a whole is grappling with another painful threat – an upsurge in violence and racism against the Asian population in the past year.

Between March 19 and December 31, Stop AAPI Hate, an anti-Asian incident tracking organization, found more than 2,800 accounts of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans across the United States, including more than 100 against the elderly.

Yu said the threat was hanging over her.

“We want to let people know that we are here for peace, we are here for prosperity and for the American dream. We have the same dream. That’s why we came to America,” she said. .

Despite the 2020 challenges presented, Yu is moving forward. She plans to open a second location in Chinatown in the coming year, selling boba tea.

– CNBC Betsy Spring contributed to this report.

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