As the biggest crowd-funding effort for the residents displaced by the Mission and 22nd Street Fire draws to a close, MEDA isn’t showing any signs of slowing down the relief effort. The nonprofit officially launched a fundraiser last night for the 36 businesses left stranded by the blaze. And, though no official announcement was made, MEDA executive director Luis Granados said the group is thinking seriously about buying the damaged building to ensure it is restored in a timely manner.
“It could be five, seven, nine years. Who’s gonna come back?” Granados asked. “What happens if we do nothing?”
Granados estimated that the building could be in MEDA’s hands within the next six months, but said there are still conversations to be had with the landlord. It was assessed in 2014 at just over $6 million. Earlier MEDA purchased and developed the building at 19th and Mission Streets where it has its offices.
In the meantime, it doesn’t look at all like MEDA intends to “do nothing.” The kickoff, hosted by fundraising sponsor and donor US Bank, is the beginning of an effort to raise $100,000 in the next three weeks to help get businesses back on their feet.
Business owners who attended the kickoff were still feeling the loss of their livelihoods acutely and anxious to get some relief.
Karen Van Dine, a multimedia artist with studio space on the second floor of the building and some materials stored in the basement, said the loss is far greater than just materials.
“It’s not just us. The Mission lost so much that night,” she told those gathered at the kickoff. “I didn’t just lose an inventory, I lost my life’s work.”
Van Dine also emphasized the need to return to the building to retrieve anything salvageable, to murmurs of agreement from other business owners. Though officials and relief workers have been promising a timeline for return to the building since the day after the fire, the building has been deemed unsafe and a re entry date is up in the air.
“Every day that building gets farther away,” Van Dine said.
While getting back in the building has been a major concern for many business owners, they also need space to start generating revenue again.
Matthew Graham, who used to run Mission Community Acupuncture, said he has been trying to fit his patients into a three-day window at a colleague’s place on the occupant’s days off.
“I’m trying to keep money trickling in because all of a sudden, my income is gone,” Graham said.
He said he has been waiting for substantial news about state and federal loans for small businesses that might help him get back on his feet but hasn’t heard much, instead getting “lip service” from workshops for displaced businesses.
Other businesses, like the solar cell mounting company Sollega, have received some tangible assistance from the city in the form of office equipment, monitors, and desks donated by other tech companies and passed on by the city. MEDA has also been able to find new locations for several owners.
Organizers remained hopeful that the fund for Mission businesses will help them recover, and at least one community member pledged her support.
Claudia Viek, CEO of the micro-business network CAMEO, said she is supporting the displaced in part because of her interest in small businesses, but also as a patron of the establishments once housed at Mission and 22nd.
“The real reason I’m here is I’m a neighbor,” Viek said.
She urged others to also support the businesses and keep them at their former location.
“I hope all of you will write a small check, or a big check, tonight,” she said.
Gabriel Medina, MEDA’s Policy Manager, said the community’s personal connection to the displaced businesses may give the fundraiser some momentum — many of the shops and restaurants in the building were patronized by generations of Mission residents, and by others who have moved away.
“For a lot of people displaced by other means, these institutions are a point of return,” Medina said. “It’s a microcosm of everything thats good and that people love about San Francisco.”
In order to report effectively on this developing story, Mission Local has opted out of MEDA’s fund for displaced businesses. You can find and donate to the Mission Fire Business Fund, “Unite and Restore,” here.