$3.5M donated to Berkeley Relief Fund for small businesses

Gisselle Reyes/Staff

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$3.5 million has been donated to the Berkeley Relief Fund to help small businesses cover operations costs during the shelter-in-place order.

Of the total donations, $3 million was contributed by the city of Berkeley. These donations will be allocated toward Berkeley residential tenants, nonprofit arts organizations and small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. More specifically, these funds will pay for small businesses’ essential operations costs, including rent.

“It’s one of the tools that we have to provide emergency relief, hopefully, in a very quick manner, to the small businesses that are suffering the most in the district,” said Alex Knox, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, or TBID.

According to its website, the Berkeley Relief Fund is run by a committee composed of members from Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office, Berkeleyside, Berkeley Merchants United, Downtown Berkeley Association, TBID, Freight and Salvage, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Public Schools Fund, Berkeley Property Owners Association, UC Berkeley, among many others.

Bayer Pharmaceuticals was the first corporate business to contribute to the Berkeley Relief Fund, according to Jens Vogel, senior vice president of biotechnology for Bayer Pharmaceuticals in Berkeley. Bayer Pharmaceuticals contributed $250,000 to the Berkeley Relief Fund before the fundraiser started, Vogel said.

“We are a member of the Berkeley community. We’re the largest nongovernment employer in Berkeley,” Vogel said. “We really feel that we had to step forward and help the small businesses and the arts really get through this difficult period of time.”

TBID — which encompasses the area of Telegraph Avenue running from UC Berkeley’s Sather Gate to the area around Parker Street and Derby Street — is heavily reliant on the patronage of UC Berkeley students, Knox said.

TBID is currently working to support local businesses in the area while adjusting to the changing needs of its customer base, which largely consists of students, according to Knox.

“I’ve definitely heard from businesses that they are concerned that they might have to close and that is a decision that they’re weighing,” Knox said.

He also encouraged students to pay attention to small businesses and help build community.

Koraa, a fair trade shop that sources its merchandise from South Asia, was one of many businesses to apply for the grant, according to the store’s owner Wen King.

“Without any support or funding, we would only last a few months before we burn through our life savings,” King said in an email. “We are committed to staying alive during this pandemic and will reinvent our entire business model if we have to. Even though we lost 90% of our revenue stream.”

Additionally, King is setting up a fund to help those who make the merchandise she sells at Koraa.

War Horse Tattoo, a tattoo parlor founded in 2011 and located on the corner of Parker Street and Telegraph Avenue, applied for a Berkeley Relief Fund grant to help retain its contractors during the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic.

“Some of the people that work with us, I have been friends with for 20 years,” said War Horse Tattoo owner George Campise. “No one that’s in my shop is disposable.”

Campise added that his top priority is making sure there is still a tattoo parlor for his contractors to come back to when the shelter-in place order is over, especially since many of them have families to support.

With its Oxford Street location open, Yali’s Cafe applied for the Berkeley Relief Fund to help cover costs.

“One of our shops on Oxford Street is right by the Downtown, and we are down by 95%,” said Yali’s Cafe owner Ayal Amzel. “The first day in 1999 that we opened, we had more sales than we have had since the 13 of last month.”

In order for the Oxford location to pay for its essential operations costs, it would have to receive $10,000 per month, according to Amzel.

He added that Yali’s Cafe faces unique challenges as it is a coffee shop and does not provide full meals.

Wood Salon also applied for the Berkeley Relief Fund. Julie Wood, co-owner of Wood Salon, said hairdressers are being put in an especially vulnerable position during the shelter-in-place order.

“We desperately need some kind of assistance,” Wood said. “We work month to month to pay for overhead because it’s so expensive.”

While hairdressers do not have an income because their salons are closed, some people are pressuring them to come into their homes to cut their hair, Wood said.

Wood emphasized that she would never consider the possibility of going to people’s homes to cut hair for fear of jeopardizing her license.

“The people of Berkeley almost always answer a call for more support for important community needs,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “In my experience, Berkeley is a deeply generous city, whether through private giving or approval of public monies. The people of Berkeley believe deeply in sharing resources for the common good.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.