Eight miles to the northeast, in the bustling village of Murphys, Russell Irish is seeing visitors steadily return to his wine tasting room, Irish Vineyards. But things looked bleak last winter, when the shutdown order came just as Russell was catching up on his back rent payments.
Another closure would have meant potential bankruptcy, and a likely move out of the state, said Russell. Like Tiscornia and other local shop owners, he kept his doors open, and served as a hub for recall petition signing.
“I just wanted to be part of the recall,” he said. “You can’t get a recall done or anything else done politically unless you have help. And for us to be a base for that help — where anybody from this area could come sign a petition — that’s where I felt like, sure, open my doors, come on in, sign it.”
Recall organizers say roughly 900 business owners across California hosted petition-signing in their shops, helping fuel the grassroots movement against a governor who they feel abandoned his small business roots.
“I don’t know if Newsom ever can be considered one of us,” Tiscornia said.
A ‘Point of Pride’ for the Governor
In recent weeks, as Newsom has traveled across the state to pitch his small businesses relief plan, he’s argued that his personal history makes him uniquely qualified to help store owners recover from the recession.
After all, to find California’s last governor who jumped from running a business into politics, you’d have to go back to James Rolph, the shipping and banking entrepreneur who was elected mayor of San Francisco, and then governor, in 1930.
“It’s a big point of pride, it’s personal for me,” said Newsom, after a visit to a San Francisco restaurant in June. “I can’t express to you how many extraordinary things have happened in my life because I had the privilege to be behind a counter, serving other people.”
Political consultant Ellie Schafer, who ran Newsom’s first ever campaign in 1998, for supervisor, remembers a candidate intent on bringing relief to small business owners butting heads with city bureaucracy.
“His focus was on small business, and that was really something that he ran strong on,” said Schafer, founder and president of South Lawn Strategies.
Unlike your average shop owner, Newsom had well-publicized connections to some of San Francisco’s elite families. Oil heir Gordon Getty was among the early investors in Newsom’s first shop, PlumpJack Wine & Spirits. But Schafer said Newsom still dealt with bureaucratic hurdles in getting his early businesses off the ground.
“His philosophy at the time was like, ‘If I’m running up against these roadblocks and I have the leg up that I have, what are other people who don’t have these advantages running up against?’ ” Schafer recalled. “And he really, truly wanted to make their lives better.”
In that first campaign, Newsom even saw fixes to the city’s Muni metro system – the top issue for voters – through an entrepreneurial lens. He wrote a ballot measure requiring city departments to create annual “customer service plans,” an idea which was approved by voters as Newsom won a full-term on the board.
Now, as a governor presiding over California’s flush budget coffers, Newsom is directing relief checks to businesses and waiving regulations in hopes of spurring a small business recovery.
Can Grants to Businesses Spur Recovery?
This spring, the governor signed executive orders extending the allowance of parklets for outdoor dining and the sale of alcoholic beverages to-go — and approved a tax cut for shops that received federal loans.
And the state budget he approved earlier this month added $1.5 billion to a small business grant program that his administration launched in December — making a total of $4 billion in grants available to companies making less than $2.5 million in annual revenue. So far, 155,471 small businesses and nonprofits have received over $1.8 billion in grants.