Residents Desire Bars, Trader Joe’s


Castro/Upper Market survey gathers data




The best way to find out what people really want is just to ask them.


Nine months into the year-long Castro & Upper Market Retail Strategy and with over 1,000 people surveyed, the project is well underway and on schedule. The goal is simple: to help bring exciting new businesses to the Castro & Upper Market retail corridor. But finding the most desirable retailers to fill the vacant storefronts is not an easy task. It is really a matter of supply and demand. The Retail Strategy aims to find out: what people want to buy, what businesses want to sell, what spaces are available, how much those spaces rent for, and what regulations govern those spaces.


According to Andrea Aiello, Executive Director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, outreach for the Retail Strategy has included many stakeholders such as tourist locals, customers, merchants, brokers, landlords, developers and city agencies.


“We are trying to look at vacant spots based on the info we have gathered to recommend which vendors would be suitable,” Aiello said. “We can offer examples by looking at the vacancies with the knowledge we have gathered, but we can’t guarantee they will listen. [The Retail Strategy] is really about relationship development. There are a lot of players involved and there is a whole process that goes into it.”


The first portion of the Retail Strategy surveyed 1,200 local residents and 50 merchants to find out what they want to see in the Castro & Upper Market. The findings shed some light on aspects unique to the Castro. Aiello commented that she didn’t realize how many long-term (over 30 years), stable businesses there were in the area. Danny Yadegar, project coordinator for the Retail Strategy, was surprised to discover that out of the 1,200 residents who completed online and sidewalk surveys, 70 percent identified as LGBT. Further research is needed to determine how the demographic (i.e. age, sexual orientation, income) of the Castro & Upper Market is changing due to the new residents vs. the long-time residents. Focus groups and interviews were conducted in addition to the surveys to gather details regarding more specific preferences.


So what do people want to see more of in the neighborhood?


Some area residents have advocated for a bakery, meat market, and produce store on Castro Street, while others have voiced for a Chipotle, a donut shop and bathhouses.


Based on the data collected in the Retail Strategy’s surveys, more outdoor bars and cafes were the number one request by residents. High-end and quality food vendors took second place. In addition to requests for a bakery and a butcher, others wanted to see a vegan restaurant and a local produce store to avoid shopping at bigger chains like Safeway or Mollie Stone’s. On the other hand, there was a high demand for a Trader Joe’s in the area.


“It’s important to understand the desires/needs of the neighborhood in order to plan around them,” Yadegar said. “Of course there are nuanced challenges to why certain properties remain vacant and why certain retailers are hard to accommodate in the neighborhood. Trader Joe’s, for one, is extremely popular amongst neighbors, but it’s hard to find a space that works.”


Parking is one reason why a Trader Joe’s is difficult to accommodate in the neighborhood. However, according to Yadegar, the parking issue in the Castro isn’t as bad as they had suspected. The Castro Merchants had assumed that one-third of shoppers were walking into the neighborhood. But the surveys proved that about 60 percent of people enter the area by foot. He said that the majority of the people who said they had an issue with parking are coming to the neighborhood in the evening. During the daytime, parking does not prove to be an issue like it is in Hayes Valley, for example. Therefore, most people don’t think it is realistic or necessary to build a parking lot in the neighborhood.


The Retail Strategy is currently in Phase II. After analyzing the surveys, the next step is to further develop the market profile and prepare the retail inventory of the Project Area’s retail space. The aim of this phase is to compare the total vacant retail space with the total retail space, to determine the average length of time the store has been vacant, to understand the rents in the area compared to San Francisco as a whole and to obtain the vacant space ownership data. Interviews with commercial brokers, owners of vacated businesses and property owners are being conducted.


The effort is being led by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District along with the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, the Castro/ Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, and the Castro Merchants. The Retail Strategy is budgeted at $87,200. A large portion of the funding comes from the Office and Economic Workforce Development, the rest from private donations.


A community meeting will be held in June to reveal the final results of the project.


Photo: Yevgenia Gorbulsky





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