Lost in Gentrification: SF Businesses Forced to Close

Mainstream media outlets have a lot of fun with gentrification. We’ve all heard about how you can’t go anywhere in Brooklyn without running into a bearded hipster in steampunk style with a pour-over coffee. Doesn’t this un-funny and oft-repeated stereotype suggest that there’s something underneath that no one wants to talk about? The bearded hipsters didn’t just appear out of nowhere, and they certainly didn’t bring their own housing and commercial space with them.

Gentrification is not the magical appearance of a wealthier set of people in an area. It’s the forced takeover of the homes and businesses of the people who were there first, the forced destruction of their community institutions. It is colonialism.

A recent news report said, “Some residents say soaring real estate prices have made evictions a big problem.” No-fault evictions have skyrocketed in San Francisco since the tech companies started encouraging their workers to live here by providing free shuttle buses and plastering a city 50 miles away from their offices on all of their HR recruiting materials. The number of dots on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project shows that. It also shows quite clearly the link between evictions and tech shuttle routes. Those who get evicted are forced to leave the city. Some move to other Bay Area cities and towns, some move to the outer exurbs. Some have to leave the area altogether because rents even in the exurbs have skyrocketed.

As they leave, the businesses they built wither. Roosevelt’s Tamale Parlor, opened when Teddy Roosevelt was president, went under.

The newer restaurants that have opened all operate from the same playbook. Industrial interiors serving precious, artisan ingredients combined rather carelessly. And so overpriced that even those who haven’t been forced out of the city have been forced from its nightlife. When paying rent requires venture capital, this is what you get. Formula retail with a designer price tag.

The new shops are in an arms race to sell the most preciously priced, least useful items. One women’s clothing boutique is called Pretty Penny. My favorite new business is an adventure gear boutique, offering a handful of mountain climbing items at much higher prices than the local business turned global brand, REI. Open just three days a week, it’s a vanity project for an owner who can pay the exorbitant rent without much income. This is where the price wars ultimately lead: to closed monuments to colonization itself. The Mission is gentrified–buy stuff here to go colonize Africa or the Himalayas!

It’s not just the historic, mom-and-pop businesses often owned by the Latinos and Asians who made San Francisco something different from Marin and Half Moon Bay that are closing. It’s everything that isn’t brand new, that hasn’t been made by the tech takeover for the tech takeover.

Here is a partial list, which I’ll update as I do more research. (Add suggestions in the comments!)

Earlier this week (October 2017), I passed by Bissap Boabab and had a momen which has become all too common: First appreciation that it was still there quickly followed by the realization that it must be in danger. Indeed, it was, as a former Facebook investor and the owner of the 19-year-old Senegalese restaurant were warring over rents. The owner managed to buy the building … for twice as much as he’d offered two years ago. But the place seems safe. Give it a try!

Boogaloo’s: This was an upscale answer in its day to the bohemian diners that once packed the Castro and the Mission, and conserved the gorgeous “Cut-rate druggist” building it occupied. There was an epic line until the day it closed. Still sitting vacant.

Books Inc. While it’s not going out of business entirely, the oldest independent book store in the West is being forced from its Castro location due to rents. The company made its announcement on the same day that it won a Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year award. They’re going closer to the money, opening up a 4,000 square-foot store in Santa Clara.

Café Gratitude: old-school California at its best/worst, the cultish raw food joint in an old-house storefront on Harrison became an outlet of the local chain The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. That closed too and now it’s Asian “comfort” food I think.

Crepevine: One of the original crepes eateries, Crepevine did brisk business near Church and Market for 18 years. It offered cheaper and better eats than comparable Squat and Gobble. It closed suddenly in early 2018.

Discolandia: Latino music’s cultural hub for 30 years, hosting legendary talents including Celia Cruz. It became Pork & Pie in the early ’00s, with sandwich board that read at one point, “You don’t have to eat another burrito!” Pork & Pie closed just a few years later, and the space went to the upscale fast food chain, Top Round Roast Beef.

Esta Noche: a long-standing gay bar for Latino men on 16th Street. Now it’s called, the irony evidently lost, Bond. A second “New York-style” cocktail lounge (overpriced, industrial) from the same owners.

Gangway: the city’s oldest gay bar is no longer.

Jeffrey’s, a beloved independently owned toy store in the Mid-Market area near Twitter’s subsidized headquarters.

Mission Local Eatery: an early gentrifier on 24th Street, a Chez Panisse copycat with artisanal food with wooden decor. Not industrial enough evidently.

La Movida: which replaced a Mexican restaurant on 24th St. and controversially failed to preserve the mural, kept the casual atmosphere that was the Mission’s hallmark introducing some artisanal-type foods and local wines at a lower price point. About to open as “Big Rec,” a game-themed beer joint.

Lexington Club: the city’s only lesbian bar, around since early 90s. Vacant for a year as of this writing, word is it will become another of Gavin Newsom’s company’s formula bars.

Lost Weekend Video: An amazing video rental place that offers in-house screenings and events. On Valencia since 1997, it announced its closure in March 2016 with a sign that said “Since 1997, Thanks, ‘n’ fuck tech.” Will take a tiny booth spot in the New Mission Theater thanks to nothing but good will from the Alamo Drafthouse.

New Aux Delices: solid Vietnamese food on Potrero Ave. that catered to hospital staff lunches. Now vacant.

Roosevelt Tamale Parlor: tasty Mexican food on 24th Street, opened 1919. Vacant.

St. John Coltrane Church: One of the last remnants of the African American culture that once dominated the Fillmore, this storefront church will shut its doors after 48 years this April.

San Francisco Victoriana: 1973-2016, a business that provided the unique parts and advice to keep a Victorian house up and running without trashing its Victorian fixtures etc. The very houses that have drawn people to San Francisco can no longer be maintained because no one can afford this labor of love.

Samovar: an upscale tea lounge with an Indian-inspired interior; closing its Castro location and leaving open a cramped, more industrial spot in Yerba Buena Center

Sparky’s: Another remnant of more working class times in San Francisco: one of its last 24-hour diners shut its doors in February. Its Castro rent was reportedly $30,000 a month.

Stompers Boots: one of the leather shops that made SoMa home to the bears who didn’t fit in in the Castro. The owner took the business to Fort Lauderdale.

The Stud: One of the city’s oldest gay bars, this place is still a hopping favorite. The property owners are looking to double or triple the rent, and, thus, The Stud may have to close is doors.

Sugarlump was the first coffeehouse to open on 24th Street. Unlike the new generation of coffee shops, it had comfortable chairs and sofas as well as laptop-amenable tables. For several years one of those sofas was my primary place of work. The owners, who also run the Latin American Club, sold in 2016. The new owners kept the name but ruined the vibe with canned music, club-type furniture and high prices. They shut down in less than a year the space quickly reopened as a wine bar.

Thrift Town: A massive thrift store that sold used household items, not just quirky second-hand clothes. Robin Williams once emptied his closets and donated the contents to Thrift Town, including an Armani tux he wore in Good Will Hunting. The prominent landmark on Mission St. closed in early 2017.

Tortilla Flats: quirky lunch spot was paid to shut down in leadup to a whole block makeover proposal that would also tear down two Victorian homes. The plan being held up, and the property is sitting vacant.

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