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Crypto boss gives $2M to light up, activate San Francisco neighborhoods

Chris Larsen, chairman of Ripple Labs, poses in a blue blazer at a Downtown location.
Chris Larsen, co-founder and executive chairman of Ripple, is giving out neighborhood grants through his nonprofit Avenue Greenlight. | Courtesy Ripple

From blues clubs in Bayview Hunters-Point to the dim sum joints of Clement Street, San Francisco’s small merchants are getting $2 million in grants to “help fight the city’s retail challenges.” 

The grants to 50 neighborhood and small business groups across the city come from tech billionaire Chris Larsen, who two years ago gave $1.7 million in pandemic recovery aid to neighborhood groups through his nonprofit, Avenue Greenlight. 

The money aims to boost neighborhood businesses that have struggled to stay afloat since 2020 as remote work and petty crime have triggered a string of retail shutdowns. While conditions have improved in the city since the first two years of the pandemic, when more businesses closed than opened, some areas are still hurting, particularly Downtown

Larsen, a San Francisco native, said he believes that giving to local groups is the most efficient way to help the city recover.

“This is an incredibly diverse city—and these groups know their neighborhoods and what they need, and they can make a buck go a long way,” Larsen said. 

The Pride Flag flies over Castro Street Fair attendees. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Some of the money will seek to beautify Downtown blocks that have been hit particularly hard by dwindling foot traffic and mounting concerns about car break-ins and open-air drug sales. A group of residents and local businesses called the Friends of Jessie Street plans to install streetlights on a dead-end alley in SoMa, and similar improvements are planned to improve safety for commuters, operagoers, tourists and residents around Jackson Square on Grove Street near the Civic Center. 

The grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 will also go to fund community events such as outdoor movie nights in Bernal Heights, art walks in the Castro, the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and car-free Halloween trick-or-treating along the Great Highway. 

Larsen, who lives with his family in Russian Hill, is the co-founder of the payments firm Ripple as well as E-Loan, the first online mortgage lender. He founded Avenue Greenlight in 2021 to support local businesses hurting during the pandemic. Mom-and-pop shops that saw their customers evaporate overnight after the shutdown also had to cope with rampant vandalism and petty theft. 

Avenue Greenlight gave San Francisco’s 34 merchant associations $50,000 each to improve public safety, beautify streets and finance events like concerts and block parties. A group in the Castro District used the money to replace the neighborhood’s iconic rainbow flag, while another grant paid for a new crab sign in Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Larsen hopes the latest round of grants will push other members of the city’s business and tech community to fund neighborhood concerns. 

“We’re trying to get the message out there that this really works,” he said. 

Rachel Scheier can be reached at