No push to fill empty storefronts in the Castro

The Castro District has been collecting empty storefronts for the past couple of years. Known for its rainbow theme and historic contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, the Castro District has become a bit duller these days, due to the looming presence of empty storefronts lingering along the sidewalks.

During the Castro Merchants monthly meeting, members were not shy about voicing their concern about the steep commercial rent that many mom and pop shops face in order to stay afloat.

“Rents are very high in the Castro and SF. This makes it hard for new businesses to get started,” Castro Merchants’ President and small business owner Daniel Bergerac said.

Several merchants and residents in the Castro District have cited that some of the main causes behind the plethora of vacancies are linked to various factors such as rent, city regulations and online competition with other stores.

City ordinances in San Francisco have restricted the proliferation of chain retailers or restaurants from entering into commercial districts and utilizing such space.

“If you have a big business with more than 11 stores, then that business is not able to set up in the Castro,” said Tim Flint owner of Brand X Antiques.

When asked why there is an abundance of vacant storefronts, Donald Metz, retail manager at Rock Hard said, “You cannot be a chain store and open-up in Upper Castro. Having no chain stores ultimately helps out the mom and pop shops.”

According to San Francisco Tenants Union Organization, San Francisco’s rent control laws cover most rental properties in San Francisco.  Under California law,  the statute also gives landlords the ability to raise rent without any cap.

Metz added, “The rent keeps on going up and no one seems to be mediating it.”  

Operations manager at Body, Lido Duke said, “A large reason why there is a lot of open storefronts is because of the tax write offs.”  

Duke and several other merchants were also frank about their discontent for business owner Les Natali.  

Entrepreneur Les Natali who owns a mini-empire of businesses and prime real estate in the Castro District such as Badlands, Toad Hall and the Patio Cafe  has left a bad taste in the mouths of a few merchants and residents.

With a collection of  businesses that Natali owns and several that have flopped underneath his watch, a majority of residents and merchants are baffled and annoyed by what some might say, a lackadaisical effort to fill the empty storefronts.

“Les Natali makes more money for the stores being closed than he does with them being open said, Operations Manager Lido Duke at Body.

The Patio Cafe , which has been vacant for several years and is owned by Natali is currently in the midst of being converted into the franchise Hamburger Mary’s, seems to be at a standstill with “help wanted” signs decorating the windows and furniture that can be seen from the outside. Many ponder why so many storefronts are unoccupied and why there is no push to fill them.

“All businesses are interdependent on each other. Someone who is shopping at my store might stop in at another. Empty spaces don’t generate anything, plus they are a magnet for bad street behavior,” said co-owner of Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub, Daniel Bergerac.

An empty storefront is photographed close to the intersection of Market and Castro Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2018. Many smaller-owned businesses are closing in the Castro because of high-rent costs. (Christian Urrutia/Golden Gate Xpress)

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