Community rallies behind Bernal Heights neighborhood to bounce back from devastating fire

- Bars, restaurants and businesses along the 3300 block of Mission Street in San Francisco are boarded up with plywood and cordoned off by yellow tape after Saturday’s massive five-alarm fire.

“It's devastating. It feels like someone in the family passed away,” said Theresa Keane, owner of 3300 Club.

Her bar, is one of the seven businesses that was destroyed or so badly damaged it had to shut down. It’s a family-owned business that’s been kept by the Keane’s for 60 years. Now they're coping with the loss of their business and income and just beginning the tedious task of rebuilding.

“Our impact isn't as bad as people who lost their houses -- that's devastating. But our bartenders have no jobs now,” she said.

Firefighters said the June 18 blaze forced 57 people from their homes, half of them from the Graywood Hotel, a building with mostly single-room occupancy units at 3308 Mission Street.

In all, six buildings were damaged in the blaze. Investigators said the fire began in the Cole Hardware building at 3312-3316 Mission St., but they are still looking into whether it began in the commercial portion of the building or in the residences above it. The hardware store has been ordered to be demolished.

Many fundraisers are underway to help not only residents, but also the affected businesses in a tight-knit community corridor.

Eden Stein, with the Mission Bernal Merchants Association (MBMA), helped create an online campaign to help the fire-damaged businesses open pop-ups shops. She hopes it will help them bridge the gap in the months it will take for them to rebuild.

“I can't even imagine losing a business. You put your heart and soul into building it. Playa Azul (a seafood restaurant) had just finished a remodel. They spent the last five years working on it. On Saturday, they watched it burn down,” said Stein.

For the nearby businesses that did survive, many have taken a hit from the street closures and the lingering impact of the fire.

“It was on Saturday, our busiest night,” said Misao Cooper, general manager of ICHI Sushi. “So we lost a lot of revenue then. And the smell lingered, which discouraged people for a couple of days.”

The Association is encouraging the community to patronize the shops and restaurants. Several, including ICHI Sushi and Front Porch, are also holding fundraisers to help the victims. Other events are in the process of being organized, according to several business owners.

Keane said other restaurant and bar owners have been calling to offer open shifts to her employees to help keep them going.

“My hope is we can bring everybody back and get back to business as usual,” said Keane.

Mayor Ed Lee's Office of Economic and Workforce Development has also stepped in by activating the Small Business Disaster Relief Fund, which was created following another large fire at 22nd and Mission streets in January 2015.
       
The fund, administered in partnership with the Mission Economic Development Agency, or MEDA, can provide emergency capital of up to $10,000 to businesses in the critical weeks after a fire or other disaster.
       
A total of $150,000 is currently available through the fund, which is intended to provide a financial bridge until businesses can access insurance funds or other loans.

Gabrial Medina, MEDA's policy manager, said the organization hopes to distribute funds to affected businesses within about two weeks.

MEDA is also working with community organizations and nonprofits to distribute funds collected through other fundraisers for fire victims.

Even with a massive influx of donations, however, Medina said displaced residents will likely not get all that they need.

"They've lost everything they have, most of them," Medina said. "Even things we take for granted, like toothbrushes."

For more information on the Merchants Association fundraising efforts, visit: www.mbmasf.org

Information on a Gofundme fundraiser is available at
https://www.gofundme.com/2a6gsws. Gofundme collects a service charge for donations.
       
MEDA is accepting donations directly at medasf.org.
       
A number of local businesses are also hosting fundraisers for fire victims, including Doc's Clock on June 24 and the El Rio on June 30.
       
Businesses affected by the fire can contact Nathanial Owen at MEDA for more information on the relief fund at (415) 282-3334 ext. 153, nowen@medasf.org. For more information on the fund, please visit: oewd.org/disaster-relief.

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