Empty Storefronts Pepper Area


Vacancies draw neighborhood concern



Walking around the Castro, it’s hard to miss the numerous vacant storefronts that line the streets. Residents are preoccupied with how to fill these retail spaces with businesses that reflect the image of the neighborhood, as well as how to hold on to some of the beloved businesses that are on the verge of getting kicked out.


“Just looking around the Castro, we have the Orbit Room and Chilango’s sitting empty,” Daniel Bergerac, President of the Castro Merchants, explained. “The Korean Bistro is supposed to become a sandwich shop, the Thai restaurant above 440 Castro is, or at least was, for sale. Dante’s Table and Nirvana are both empty and for lease. And, of course, the Patio Cafe/Hamburger Mary’s remains a ghostship.”


In addition to the already vacant storefronts, recent events have raised concern for commercial leases in the area being denied or not renewed. The closing of Chilango’s, a popular Mexican restaurant on Church and Market that was in business for years, is one example. A letter was displayed in the window of the restaurant explaining that a new landlord took over the building but declined to renew the restaurant’s long-term lease. The owners were given the option of a month to month lease for nearly double what they had previously been paying.


Another Mexican restaurant that served the neighborhood for 23 years, Zapata’s, was set to close as of last month, but has now been granted a one-year lease extension by property owner Les Natali. Zapata’s owner, Jorge Perez, told the Bay Area Reporter he felt it had been evident that Natali wanted the restaurant to vacate its space since he bought the building in 2008. Natali, who owns a mini-empire composed of several properties in the Castro, is not the most popular man in the Castro. Apart from being accused of racial profiling of customers at one of his bar’s (Badlands), he currently has vacant properties at 531 and 541 Castro Street and 4144 18th Street, and he has left the former Patio Cafe location empty for over a decade.


But Natali isn’t the only reason that small business owners in the neighborhood are nervous. According to Bergerac, retail was much different thirty years ago. Long gone are the days of only being able to get a specific item at a certain store that only exists in the Castro. Technology has changed the way in which people shop.


“Thirty years ago, gay people [in the Castro] had shops that pertained to a specific clientele,” he said. “Today it’s much different, much harder.”


Bergerac explained that today people ask themselves: “Do I want to get in my car and drive across town to see if maybe they have what I’m looking for, or do I just want to jump on my phone or my computer and order the exact thing I want on Amazon?”


The recent Castro and Upper Market Retail Strategy Report considered all the different factors contributing to the vacancies in the area. The yearlong initiative, led by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District along with the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association and Castro Merchants, aimed to fill new ground floor retail in a manner that enables the commercial corridor to thrive, while at the same time preserving its unique character and draw as a tourist destination. It also strived to ensure a high quality of life for area residents. The findings confirmed that while the Castro has the most pedestrian traffic in the city after Union Square, the commercial vacancy rate remains higher than normal.


According to Executive Director Andrea Aiello, the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District is concerned about the vacancy rate in the district and is committed to implementing retail strategy recommendations.


“Research on the best next steps for us to take speaks to the need to hire a dedicated person to work closely with the community, the property owners, local merchants and the brokers to not only fill vacancies one property at a time, but to also work with all of these entities to create clusters of businesses which have a similar customer base and then help develop collaborative programs between these merchants,” Aiello said. “The Castro CBD is looking for funding to create such a position. In the meantime we are have reached out to owners of long term vacancies to inquire about the possibility of pop-ups and we are open to facilitating discussions with property owners around filling vacancies with pop-ups, art and other activities. The CBD is also using the research from the Retail Strategy Report to guide our decisions around land use.”


Danny Yadegar, Project Coordinator for the Retail Strategy Report, agreed with Aiello. He noted one such pop-up or temporary use of a vacant space to keep an eye out for in the near future. The Myriad, a marketplace that promises to be “much more than mom’s market,” is set to open at 2175 Market St. The business model is explicitly designed to help small businesses thrive in the increasingly difficult-to-navigate landscape of high rent prices and labor costs. Accordingly, the Myriad will allow tenants lease options from six months to two years in varying sizes, with rent ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. This initiative is a new way for small business owners to become future tenants in one of the vacant storefronts in the Castro.


Related Stories:

May 2014

Feb 2014

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier