Little Tokyo Community Council Begins Fundraising for Small Business Relief Fund

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Carol Tanita and Rigoberto Martinez of Rafu Bussan Inc. stand in front of a newly installed acrylic barrier. The Little Tokyo store moved to its current location in Honda Plaza in March 2016. Rafu Bussan has been selling Japanese art and gift items since 1958. They are open for business with limited hours and access, and are taking appointments on an hourly basis. (Photos by TOYO MIYATAKE STUDIO)

The Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC) has announced the organization of the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund as a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort in partnership with Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) to provide financial support for local businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund will accept donations using GoFundMe with LTCC as the nonprofit administrator. The goal is to provide a lump sum of $2,000 for as many of the eligible local businesses that successfully apply and qualify. LTCC has set a stretch fundraising goal of $500,000, but hopes to begin distribution once the fund reaches a milestone of $50,000.

Previously in response to the pandemic that forced restrictive access of essential businesses like restaurants, LTCC developed the Community Feeding Community (CFC) program. Donations were collected to buy meals from Little Tokyo restaurants that were distributed free of charge to hospitality workers and others whose jobs were directly affected by the crisis.

Public awareness of CFC through traditional and social media propelled fundraising over the $100,000 mark, enabling the program to support 75 businesses and distribute over 6,000 meals in three months.

With CFC concluding its initial program this month, LTCC began discussing possible options with LTSC’s Small Business Assistance Program staff to continue support for Little Tokyo small businesses. LTCC especially wanted to focus on the businesses that recently have been allowed to reopen such as retail stores, hair and nail salons, and bars, as well as legacy businesses. It is estimated that there are 400 businesses in the Little Tokyo neighborhood, with nearly all facing severe impacts due to the pandemic.

“As the board chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council, I was extremely pleased at the success of the Community Feeding Community program in helping out our local restaurants,” stated Doug Aihara. “But I know that there are many other kinds of small establishments besides restaurants and they are in need as well. We are hopeful that the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund can provide them with a little boost during this difficult situation.”

“Over the past three months, Little Tokyo businesses have reported sales losses anywhere from 60 to 100%,” explained Mariko Lochridge, LTSC small business counselor. “Summertime events and festivals, which businesses rely on for visitors and customers, have largely been cancelled or made virtual. Without support, Little Tokyo will lose many of the legacy and other small businesses that make up the fabric of our historic Japantown.”

Added Kristin Fukushima, LTCC managing director, “LTCC and LTSC hope that by creating the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund and by reaching out to the local businesses, we can encourage them to persevere through this unprecedented situation. Our community has endured difficult times before by pulling together. We feel by letting everyone know about this fund and its purpose, we are creating an opportunity for people to express their support for Little Tokyo and its businesses.”

Eligibility will be determined through the application process, and application and eligibility information will be available on the webpage, littletokyola.org/gofundme. LTSC Small Business Assistance Program staff will be available to help fill out applications.

For English-language support, contact Megan Teramoto at [email protected] and for Japanese-language support, contact Mariko Lochridge at [email protected] Korean, Chinese, and Spanish interpretation is available; requests can be made in-language to Lochridge.

For those wishing to make a donation to the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund, go to littletokyola.org/gofundme. For general inquiries, contact Kristin Fukushima at [email protected] (English) or Kisa Ito at [email protected]

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