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San Jose business owners donate over $15k to help competitors hit with COVID violation fines

San Jose business owners donate over $15k to help competitors hit with COVID violation fines
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash
By Laila Weir - Published on December 03, 2020.

After a local businessman started a fund to cover the costs of San Jose businesses hit with fines for COVID-19 health-order violations over Thanksgiving weekend, support has flooded in from other business owners wanting to help.

EQ1 Real Estate President and CEO Mike Bui, who kicked off the giving with an initial pledge of $2,000, said that the fund had reached over $15,000 just a day after KPIX reported on the effort.

Bui tells Hoodline that with many small businesses struggling to survive during the pandemic and related lockdowns, as many others have already shut their doors, he worried the fines might be more than they could handle.

“I’m a small business owner, so I understand,” Bui said. “I felt it was the right thing to do when I saw that other small business owners were getting hit.”

Yet despite all the pledges, the amount is still far less than the $115,000 in fines the county issued over the holiday. Facing surging COVID cases and rapidly-filling hospitals, Santa Clara County fined 181 businesses in holiday weekend raids that came as a surprise to many.

That’s according to the Mercury News, which reported that the most common violations were failing to submit a social distancing protocol, or failing to properly post signage about protocols and capacity. The fines ranged from $250 to as much as $3,750 each, the paper said.

Bui called fines for the more procedural violations “unfair.”

“If they were doing something egregious they should be in trouble, of course,” he told Hoodline. “But for not having updated signage … It’s not fair to them when they’re struggling to survive.”

So far, about a dozen business owners have contacted Bui for help from the fund, he said Wednesday, and close to $4,000 of the money raised has been committed – leaving some $11,000 still up for grabs. He invited business owners who received fines to contact him via social media.

Of the businesses who’ve contacted him so far, Bui said, “a big majority of those who were fined were small business owners inside large shopping malls and shopping plazas.”

Bui said that some of the businesses fined were already struggling. “They were making it” before the pandemic, he said. “COVID and the lockdowns and the restrictions have really hindered their way of doing businesses.”

Many of these “mom-and-pop” stores’ owners he’s spoken to have kept their businesses open mostly to avoid laying off their workers, Bui declared. “They’re only keeping open to maintain the employees — for their livelihoods,” he said.

Santa Clara County engaged in its crackdown out of concern over Black Friday shopping crowds, as the county’s case count skyrocketed. The county is now set to be the Bay Area’s first to run out of space in its intensive care units.

“We know holiday shopping is critical to our Santa Clara County businesses,” said County Counsel James R. Williams in a county announcement before Thanksgiving. “If people are shopping in person, we want the experience to be as safe as possible for employees and the public.  Given the rising case counts, it is absolutely vital that everyone carefully and rigorously abide by the health orders.”

Also before the crackdown, county spokesperson Betty Duong highlighted the human costs of the pandemic to San Jose Spotlight. “We know that our businesses are struggling. We know that they are trying to recover,” Duong told the publication. “The pandemic is not good for business. The pandemic is not good for public health.”

Meanwhile, Bui called the outpouring of support from business owners to help others who may be their competitors “a beautiful thing.”

“If we’re blessed, we can bless them too,” he said.

Anyone interested in contributing to the fund can contact Bui on Instagram @whoismikebui.