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$20 million relief package 'too late' for some small businesses

This aid is for local businesses struggling to stay alive, as 'Purple Tier' restrictions have forced restaurants and other businesses to cease indoor service

SAN DIEGO — While the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $20 million aid package to help struggling local businesses on Wednesday, some small business owners said this assistance was needed months earlier.

Among those owners is Karen Barnett, who has owned the beloved watering hole Small Bar in University Heights for the past 11 years. 

On the day before Thanksgiving, she was preparing to shut her doors for good.

Throughout the afternoon, dozens of customers stopped to pick up turkey dinners they'd ordered, and to say goodbye.

"This was kind of our last supper, our last hurrah," Barnett said. 

Proceeds from this turkey dinner sale on Small Bar's last day were to ensure her employees get a final paycheck, as Barnett also said farewell to customers and a community that have become more like family to her.

Credit: KFMB-TV
Small Bar in University Heights

"I watched them fall in love here, watched them grow their families. We're definitely a part of their lives," Barnett told News 8. "So to walk away after 11 years, it is rough."

This ends a financially rough year as well. Barnett said her sales are down 75% compared to last year, due to the pandemic, as her business joins more than a hundred other restaurants and bars that have shuttered their doors in San Diego so far this year.

"The sales don't come in, but your bills still do. The energy bill's the same. The rent is the same," she said. "It's just too bad that there wasn't a way for the government to help out here."

Ironically, Small Bar's closure comes the same day that San Diego County green-lighted that $20 million relief package for local businesses struggling to stay alive, as "purple tier" restrictions have forced San Diego restaurants, gyms and other businesses to cease indoor service.

This new local grant program is also open to non-profits and event planners as well. 

"This relief program can be the lifeline that prevents more businesses from closing," said County Supervisor Greg Cox. 

"Coming through with this funding now is absolutely too late," Barnett countered. 

She said that, without explanation, her previous application for pandemic relief from the county earlier this year was denied.

And while this chapter is now closed, after taking a "quarantine break," Barnett said a new chapter will eventually begin.

"I'll come back," she promised. "I'll stay on in the industry. I definitely love what I do, so I'll be back!"

For more information on applying for a business relief grant from the county, click here