City of Berkeley, nonprofits provide aid to local businesses during COVID-19

photo of the Berkeley city skyline
Nick Quinlan/Staff
The city of Berkeley and nonprofit organizations collaborated to provide funds and assistance to local businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, local businesses in Berkeley struggled to adapt to ever-changing regulations and customer influxes as they searched for external support. 

Looking to address the immediate difficulties of the pandemic, many businesses sought aid from the city government. The Office of Economic Development worked to connect local businesses to city, state and federal grant programs. These included Small Business Administration loans and Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, lenders, according to a 2020 city of Berkeley report.

The city connected larger federal grants with local businesses, while also offering arts and business continuity grant awards, the report reads.

Erik Bigglestone, managing owner of Games of Berkeley, said the store’s doors are currently open, with renovations underway and events being hosted.

“The only reason we are still in business is because of the loans we were able to get from the Small Business Administration and the California Relief Grant, the Berkeley Relief Grant and programs of that nature,” Bigglestone previously told The Daily Californian.

Arlene Giordano, owner of Le Bateau Ivre, also received grant money. While the first round of PPP loans had passed before Giordano could apply, she was able to receive them shortly after, with the first loan going through May 6, 2020.

The process was easy and straightforward, Giordano previously told The Daily Californian. She noted that the loans are easily excused if the amount given is under $150,000.

Giordano added she also received a grant from Alameda County and PG&E totaling $3,500.

In sharp contact, other local businesses recounted their struggle to obtain adequate aid from the city. Although her business received a small grant, Lysa Taylor, co-owner of Industrial Tattoo and Piercing, noted that she felt forgotten by the city due to the industry’s small size and highly specific market.

“We as body art practitioners have to pay a fee every year,” Taylor said in an email. “Personally I have been trying to get a credit for last year and pay since January. I get bills, and it’s frustrating because the city wants me to pay for last year, most of which we were closed.”

City businesses have also looked to other organizations for support, including the Downtown Berkeley Association, or DBA, an independent nonprofit that supports Berkeley residents, workers and merchants.

According to Matthew Jervis, director of marketing and vitality at Downtown Berkeley Association, they focused on promotional support, informational distribution and the administration of funds. Of the latter, the most notable was the Berkeley Relief Fund, which provided more than $1.5 million.

In coordination with city funds, they were able to raise more than $4.5 million for more than 700 small businesses, according to the Berkeley Relief Fund’s website.

The organization also supported local businesses by creating a program called “Cooking in Place,” in which residents could take classes at local restaurants, including Bobby G’s Pizzeria and Revival Bar and Kitchen, according to the event’s website.

The DBA also partnered with the city to create the Damage Mitigation Fund, which allowed businesses to recover from physical damages accrued during the shelter-in-place.

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.