Will APEC in SF be epic? Some business owners say it will crush them

“APEC is going to be EPIC!” So say the announcements at bus shelters in San Francisco.

That’s a lot of hype for a party that most of us aren’t actually invited to attend. In fact, we really indeed not invited.

We’re three weeks away from the high-level Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit, and city residents and business owners just got the official word on how they’re going to be kicked out via a Secret Service press conference. Streets will be closed around a highly restricted “exclusion zone” in the South of Market neighborhood to prevent potential terrorist threats: fences, limited access points, heavily armed law enforcement officers from around the state and country, snipers, more surveillance, Nov. 14-18 vehicles and pedestrian checkpoints with airport-style bag checks.

A big part of the narrative San Francisco officials peddled around the summit is that if we hit the tipping point — and if Joe Biden’s limo doesn’t tip over — the dreaded “doomsday loop” will weaken and the event will have 30,000 attendees. Tell your rich and powerful friends to invest in San Francisco.

But contrary to this rosy picture, many small business owners in SoMa fear APEC could make things worse downtown.

While the city has not called for any closures per se, several owners I spoke with feared the spike would do fatal damage to businesses already struggling due to the depletion of San Francisco’s downtown office scene. These owners say they are frustrated by what they consider a complete lack of communication, preparation and support from city government.

Amidst all the fanfare, they feel left out.

“Once the perimeter is up, we’ll have to close,” said restaurant owner Manuel Ramirez, who runs Bonchon restaurant in the Metreon, which is in the exclusion zone. There’s no way that would logically work, especially for a supply-driven business, he says. “Even if we could work, how would our workers get here?” Will they come an hour early and line up at checkpoints? Are delivery drivers willing to stop three blocks away to pick up food?

Ramirez says most restaurants operate on shoestring budgets, and losing a week’s revenue would be devastating. He’ll still have to pay rent — and then there’s the issue of compensating employees for lost wages.

Ramirez said other owners he spoke to were petrified. “How are they going to get away with it?”

Even bar owners who seem perfectly situated for such events are worried. In an email, Executive Order bar owner John Eric Sanchez told me that San Francisco’s approach to APEC was “well thought out, poorly planned and (and) poorly coordinated.”

Sanchez said his bar, which is a block away from the Moscone Center and in an exclusion zone, typically arranges conference-related purchases three to six months in advance. Dreamforce and other conferences do well for Executive Order. However, despite signing the bar up through official channels as an APEC-ready event venue, it has so far not received “a single one”, meaning the bar will have to rely absurdly on foot traffic for the week most locals expect. is a signal about will run away from the area.

The San Francisco Small Business Administration has published an online guide for business owners to navigate APEC, but it’s clear from the advice that the city has little financial help to offer. In the section on the benefits of the summit, the guide says: “While we cannot guarantee that your business will see an increase in business during APEC, we hope that the high profile of the event will have a positive impact in the long term. San Francisco.”

“It’s neither comforting nor reassuring to say, ‘Just wait. You’ll see. It’s going to be great for business,’ to a business that bounces back from COVID and post-COVID and finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Sanchez and Ramirez recently joined other SoMa business owners and residents in lobbying city officials with their frustrations. That effort culminated in a resolution authored by Supervisor Connie Chan that took the city to task for not adequately preparing residents and businesses for APEC. The resolution — the legislative equivalent of a strongly worded proposal — also noted that part of the $10 million APEC fund held in reserve, likely earmarked for police overtime, could help ease the economic burden on the neighborhood.

Even if the resolution passes, Mayor London Breed and her city departments are dependent on a distraction from party planning to help people who will be harmed by APEC.

Sarah Dennis Phillips said, “We understand there will be short-term impacts and are committed to ensuring the safety of our visitors and ensuring that the disruptions that occur are not to the extent of affecting businesses.” , executive director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. He said volunteer city ambassadors will cover the area, directing attendees to the best spots for coffee and sandwiches. And he said staff from his office, along with the Small Business Administration, will go door-to-door starting Monday to educate SoMa residents and businesses about APEC’s impact.

But for businesses struggling to cover their potential losses, whatever comes may be too late.

The earliest the Supervisory Board can vote on the resolution will be October 24. Two and a half weeks later, snipers are coming to the city.

Reach Soleil Ho (they/them): [email protected]; Twitter: @hooleil

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