Castro and Upper Market Commercial Corridor

While the Castro and Upper Market commercial corridor is currently the second most active business district in San Francisco, behind only Union Square, there are currently 28 vacant storefronts along the corridor and the retail vacancy rate is hovering around 7 percent, nearly twice the city’s overall average.

And with new construction adding over 30,000 square feet of retail space along the corridor over the next couple of years, enough space for another 15-20 medium-sized stores, some have concerns that the vacancy rate could cross the 10 percent mark and that the new development could threaten the corridor’s character and draw.

Aiming to address the existing vacancy rate while developing a plan to fill new ground floor retail “in a manner that enables the commercial corridor to thrive while preserving its unique character and draw as a tourist destination,” a coalition of business and neighborhood groups have launched a Retail Strategy Project for the corridor.

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, and funded in part with a grant from the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the coalition hopes to have a plan in place which can be “legislated, assigned to responsible parties, or adopted by SF Planning Department” within a year.

103 thoughts on “Castro And Upper Market Corridor Concerns Spur Strategy Project”
    1. Eh I have gay friends in their mid to late 20s, they go the Castro. No way can they afford to live there, but they go there daytime, and especially nighttime. Even ones that live in Temescal / or other parts of Oakland will still come to the Castro on weekends.

    2. a boorish and uninformed comment – both in its ageism (guess what, someday you’ll be 65+ and wanting to shop, have a drink with friends, etc. – hope you’re treated with more kindness than you’re showing here), and in its inaccuracy (any trip down Castro will show people from all age groups and ethnicities).

      1. I can’t speak for My Heart is in Frisco but I’d say it’s a light hearted joke. It is a sign of our times as LGBT youth try to come to SF only to find no place for them to live that’s affordable anywhere near the “gayborhood”. the Castro is frankly out of reach for much of the community. not that there’s anything right or wrong about it but it’s sort of a fact that most of the LGBT people there have been there for a very long time and are frankly on the older side.

        1. Yea I have to imagine the people that live there are old. LGBT youth can’t come to this city anymore, unless they have tech jobs. But this city as a safe haven for youth has been long gone, well before my time here at least.

    3. Please, the commenter calls him/herself “frisco.” Enough said.

      As for the article…the Castro demographic continues to change. Considering the insanely high residential price point and how businesses have lost their leases because of rents being jacked up, the old days of mom and pop stores is over. Chains and restaurants can barely afford the rents. Also, the area is filthy and filled with obnoxious homeless/drug addicts morning, noon and night. Put some beat cops in the area. I lived in the area for 8 years and watched it deteriorate year after year. Putting in wider sidewalks isn’t going to improve the situation either. It’s just more room for beggars to stretch out. Finally, why does it have to remain a “tourist” destination as the gay epicenter for all to see? Neighborhoods evolve (and devolve). Greenwich Village 2014 is not what it was like in 1974 or 1994. Polk Gulch has been completely transformed. Holding on to the past in many cases stifles the future. Let the market dictate even if that means having empty storefronts owned by greedy landlords.

        1. me too 🙂 i think for the anti-frisco crowd it’s more of a class issue. frisco’s always been sort of a working-class name.

      1. I have found that anyone who doesn’t like Frisco is usually some lame form the suburbs or a transplant. Born and raised and still live here in the city. We always called it frisco.

  1. Stop saying “no” to ALL various retail and “chain” options and let the Market decide what is successful. We can have 8-10 pharmacies, multiple banks on every corner but not one Chipotle? Loosen the grips and let the neighborhood thrive. More folks will come and shop and “lift all boats”. Fewer vacancies will mean fewer vagrants sleeping in doorways. All this “planning” is the issue. Competition is good. Look what happened when Whole Foods went in…Safeway upped their game and made improvements. If someone’s business starts to suffer because of new competition, it will cause them to improve their own offering better pricing, food, ambiance etc. We try so hard to protect “what has been” that we are blind to the benefits of “what can be”

    1. You touch on a good point – I like going to the Castro; or more accurately, I *want* to like going to the Castro. But that interest struggles to survive in the face of seemingly omnipresent homeless (and their ‘detritus’) and the ‘naked people’. At some point people will give up and go to Fillmore or Hayes Valley instead…

      1. Excellent point. I feel the same way. The homeless problem and yes, even the crude naked guys in the plaza are still a huge problem. We can solve the homeless problem with services. The naked guys should grow up and move on. The Castro looks and feels tired and dirty more and more. I’m not even sure the new sidewalks and street landscaping will help, but I hope it will.

    2. PaulSF – You are the voice of reason. I like competition among businesses. The “no formula retail” group thinks that if you let “formula retail” into an area that it will increase the commercial rent rates on all the stores. I’m not sure that’s the result. I do wonder why so many storefronts are vacant. I’m very concerned that the retail strategy team is not including commercial space landlords in their study. They are going to be doing shopper surveys in the coming months. They want to find out what shoppers want to see in the area. Wouldn’t it be too funny if the results showed a majority want some chain stores?

      1. I’m all for shopper surveys and actual evidence. I used to feel the same way as you – I made the same argument to a friend who was part of the campaign against chains on Valencia back in – oh, 2005 maybe? I rolled my eyes at him and said, have you seen all the empty storefronts? And he blathered on about the actual number and projections etc… And he may have simply been lucky, but he was completely right. Valencia now has way more character and draws people from all over who want something different than what they find in Union Square and every other city. Competition is great, but sometimes it’s nice to have government stack the deck a little. If we relied only on competition in say landscaping, we’d end up with the same vigorous weedy species in every yard — but stack the deck in favor of some rose bushes (say) and eventually they will thrive on their own.

        1. Having the government “stack the deck” to turn former neighborhood commercial corridors into slick avenues of super-pricey boutiques and expensive bars/restaurants is not good for the economic health of the city in the long run and it ignores the needs of ordinarly people who live in the neighborhood.

          Not every commercial corridor in the city needs to be a major tourist shopping attraction or cater only to the very affluent. Valencia is a very nice commericial corridor for the affluent tourists and affluent new residents, but I am not sure the Castro, which is already fairly upscale and has its own share of trendy boutiques and restaurants, needs to guided into becoming a duplicate of Valenica.

      1. Yes, Planning did nix the Starbucks at 2201 Market. Recently, plans were announced for a condo building on that site which is a better use.
        FYI, Dennis Richards was just appointed to the Planning Commission. Mr. Richards is a past President of the Board of the DTNA.

    3. Excellent comment, Paul. I owned Buck Tavern a few years back, just to the east of the area defined on the map, but more upper market than mid market anyway…..My stretch of the neighborhood was challenging, as I was sandwiched between a couple of SROs. As much as I had to manage the “neighbors”, getting clearances to open in the first place was a bigger challenge, and I was not even a chain. I did sell Buck back in 2010 and sadly, it did not survive when it came time to renew the lease (irrational LL expectations of fair market rent, IMO). My input on this plan is very similar to yours. Planning: Less is more.

      1. definitely agree. the only place with a retail soul is SF. i hate having to deal with the awful retail experiences of soulless New York or Chicago or Seattle or Boston. So nice to come back home to the soul-filled vacant storefronts of Market St.

        1. For once we can agree – the empty sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in NYC, or Newbury Street in Boston, are a testament to flawed planning that allows in popular and successful retailiers. Such a shame.

  2. Of course, they had a chance to fill one of those storefronts last year, and residents fought it tooth-and-nail because it was (horror of horrors) chain retail. So what do they want – no chains, or empty storefronts. Because there’s something terribly wrong with a situation where you have a busy commercial district, drawing people from literally all over the world, and so many empty storefronts. (And frankly a lot of the shops that are there don’t seem to be doing so well – often when I go into some of the clothing or homewares stores on Market, I’m the only person there.)

  3. Interesting times for this area. It’s losing the “gayborhood” identity in the wave of “everybody can live everywhere now”, and I personally have no issue with that, though it rankles some of the old guard.

    With that, however, comes a kind of cultural question mark. What is going to appeal to, and succeed among, the new residents? Castro from 17th to 19th is still the usual mix of rainbow-schlock, iffy food and tweaker-bars, but the rest of the depicted area is a bit more diverse.

    I don’t pretend to know the answers but I expect it’s going to be a challenge to secure a good mix of tenants if they themselves aren’t too sure about who’s likely to be walking in the doors.

    1. I read a good article lately (on Curbed?) that posits that gay neighborhoods in U.S. cities are becoming like “Little Italy” and “Chinatown” – they’ll be places with a certain cultural identification (one even endorsed and pushed by the local government, with an eye towards drawing tourists), but where the gay population is not as concentrated as in the past. Think of North Beach – lots of Italian restaurants, good coffee, gelato, and still plenty of people actually speaking Italian… but by no means an “Italian neighborhood” from a census / demographic perspective.

  4. This is a thriving part of San Francisco , so if those Store Fronts are not being filled its probably due to unrealistic expectations of the property owner or NIMBY attitudes of the neighborhood

  5. I don’t think the storefronts are vacant because of the formula retail restrictions. The problem is that the asking rents are too-high for most neighborhood-serving retail to survive. Restaurants are just about the only thing that can make the rents and I believe the moratorium on new restaurants is still in effect in the Castro (?)

  6. “This is a thriving part of San Francisco , so if those Store Fronts are not being filled its probably due to unrealistic expectations of the property owner or NIMBY attitudes of the neighborhood.”

    It could also be due to high rents for commercial space. They drove out the mom & pop stores only to be replaced by high priced retail rental space which nobody could afford.

  7. Yes rent is too high, I’ve been noticing apartments on craigslist for literally months, ( I mean that literally), because the property owner is holding out for an outrageous price. I can imagine owners of store fronts are doing the same.

    As for chain laws, we should keep them. As has been noted elsewhere, what we don’t want are large companies renting places as a sort of billboard. ‘Hey we’re hip we have a place on Valencia and 16th!’ They don’t have to make the same kind of profit they would make in another area or another city, it’s a signpost, something on the bottom line and we don’t need it as a city.

    1. While I would argue that a profitable chain would never keep open a money-losing storefront simply as a “look at me!” billboard – regardless, I’d rather have an open and underused Banana Republic or Chipotle, than a storefront sitting empty for literally years.

    2. This is a narrow view of commerce. Stores serve not only their owners, but consumers too. For example, I’d like to have a Gap or Banana Republic in Hayes Valley, because I can’t afford any of the clothes those boutiques sell. If people want to pay $400 for a windbreaker and $75 for sweatpants, then more power to them, but given the high cost of living in this city, many of us need affordable clothing options.

    3. There is no chain-store that is kept open simply to say “hey, we are on Valencia.” There are some limited cases where busineses, like Sony with its old demonstration store in Metreon, would have display stores simply E.g. Disney store closed on Union Square because it was not profitable enough, even though I am sure that was a great location just to promote the Disney brand.

      I do not support a sledge-hammer approach. I think if the people would like to shop at chains in their neighborhood (and I do like to patronize them occasionaly, just like I also like to shop at locally owned stores, too), they should be giving the chance, and a few academic planner in the City planning department and a handful of screechy activists who don’t have jobs and so have time to run to planning meetings and screech should not dictate planning policy.

      This is not to say I am giving a ringing endorsement of chains, rather I think the neighborhood can sort things out for itself. If I chain is not wanted, no one will shop there and it will close. And, chains have closed in the Castro, so there is the proof that particular chains that are not wanted are taken care of by consumers making individual shopping decisions.

      1. “f I chain is not wanted, no one will shop there and it will close”

        I’m sorry but that’s a very simplified view of things, and simply inaccurate in the real world. I don’t have time at the moment to really support my view, but for instance see, e.g., any city in the entire country.

        1. Your response is “see any city in the entire county?” That makes zero sense. Are you arguing chain stores stay open across the country even though they lose money, or that people shop at chain stores even though they dislike their products or services? Either argument is absurd, if that us what you are trying to argue, and as you note, you have offered no support.

          I think people who love in the city should be free to shop where they please and make their own decisions based on price, quality of goods and services, and other personal preferences. I am not against any restrictions whatsoever, but generally I think the government needs to get out of the way of dictating what stores can go where aside from the usual zoning–if the area is zoned commercial, then it shouldn’t matter if a store is a chain or not. Not to mention, many locally owned stores become successful and become chains–so then what? Are they supposed to move out of the neighborhoods that made them successful in the first place?

          1. “Are you arguing…”

            The argument, I assume, is that when you allow chains, all you get is chains.

          2. BobN’s comment above about “soulless crap” (I.e., chain retail) blighting far too much of the country sadly has much too much merit. How and why it is so is of little import to me.

          3. Since SF is one of the prime cities in the country at creating chains, you’d think that we’d be a little more open to allowing them to operate here.

            I guess it’s just another case where we want to spread something to the rest of the world and profit from it, but would rather not have to actually look at our creation.

          4. Bob, if the poster’s argument is that if you allow chains all you get is chains, then that is an idiotic argument. My mother lives in Indianapolis, a with very loose zoning and absolutely no chain-store restrictions. In her neighborhood right in the middle of the city, as in plenty of other neighborhoods in that city, there are tons of non-chain restaurants, bars, clothing stores, hardware stores, etc. Yes, the city has vast strips of chains stores on the major thoroughfares, but many of neighborhoods of that city have the same “artisanal,” “fair trade,” farm-to-table” “locally sourced,” “community focused,” etc, etc. businesses that we in SF seem to get giddy about. That is just one city, as an example. I have traveled to every major city in the U.S., and generally once you get out into the neighborhoods, most cities have plenty of non-chainstore commercial establishments. So, no, if you allow chains, you do not only get chains. Because consumers like options, and they will not just shop at chainstores.

  8. Since Trader Joe’s was unable to open shop where Radio Shack (and now CVS) is located, it would be great if they could lease the former Blockbuster site on Church Street. This location seems ideal for one of their stores, with its great transit access and existing parking lot.

    1. trader joe refused to move in because there wasn’t enough parking for them, i don’t see that changing with the blockbuster site. and anyway, blockbuster site will be redeveloped into something even better – the residential is much more important than providing more competition to safeway and whole foods (even though that’s important too).

      1. There are s many misconceptions about why Trader Joe’s pulled out, and you are perpetuating one of them. TJ’s pulled out because they didn’t do their homework and what they were proposing was illegal – they wanted to unload merchandise every day during the rush hour across the sidewalk while their big semi truck parked in the bike lane. SF law requires a loading dock for a store of that size, and that location does not have one that can accommodate their 18-wheelers. The city also wanted them to pay for intersection improvements to help mitigate the traffic their store would generate, and they didn’t want to pay for it. So when it became clear that the MTA was not going to let them break the law on a daily basis, and the city would expect them to mitigate their negative impacts on traffic and pedestrian safety, TJ’s was no longer interested.

        While it[‘s true that the Market/Noe site had way too little parking for the car traffic they’d have generated, Trader Joe’s didn’t care about that, they were happy to foist that problem onto the surrounding neighborhood. (Most of the issues the neighborhood raised were related to the parking issue, but it wasn’t one that particularly concerned the TJs people.)

  9. Actually the issue with the castro is neither the sky high rent nor the chain store laws but the fact that the majority of storefronts are owned by the same folks who own the bars that have turned this hood into a destination for gays folks from elsewhere to come party while making it a less than ideal place for locals to frequent. The number of empty storefronts on castro alone is strange esp as the few ones that end up being occupied become artificial roadblocks to the increasing gentrification of the hood. While this comment is sure to raise comments one can’t deny that all other neighborhoods (hayes, valencia, sunset) have gotten better while the castro continues to be a cesspools and a gay fraternity party. Where else would a place like ‘the patio’ sit vacant for 10 yrs? It’s becoming a dead neighborhood and that’s more than a little sad.

    1. I would hardly call the Castro a “cesspool” by any standards. It is an affluent and well-kept area, and I am not sure it needs any help from the city getting further gentrified. Yes, the old patio has been closed for years, but there are still plenty of restaurants, bars, trendy boutiques, etc. And, there are plenty of fancy new apartments and condos going up in the neighborhood.

  10. Part of the problem is the turmoil from major residential construction happening on every block. Empty sections of blocks are uninviting to shoppers. Also, Noe/Sanchez & Market are horrific, 6-way intersections that desperately need calming. Pedestrians dodge cars and cars are often confused as to where to go and when to stop. Hopefully some money from the condo developments will go towards reworking their sidewalks. Market and Dolores is great! Let’s continue that up the hill!

    1. That’s interesting – I’ve made the same observation the last several times I’ve been through there. I don’t remember Noe/Sanchez/Market being so bad in the past (1990s/2000s); I wonder if the City changed the light timing – I do know that it’s now impossible to walk along Market without having to wait at one of the Noe/Sanchez triangles, because the walk signals aren’t synced.

      As for the construction – hopefully that’s a little pain for a lot of gain. The added residential density should help all local retailers, and the street improvements on Castro should also be a big plus in the long run.

      1. I agree, I see clueless and distracted car drivers sailing through red lights through here all the time. It is a miracle more people aren’t run over. More traffic calming is needed.

  11. 1. Castro is simply not dense enough to support community retail along Market.
    2. Ubers buy from their phones, not in stores. Think Google Express, Amazon Fresh, and more coming. Any retail that is not an independent experience is at risk.
    3. Costco, Target, Best Buy, CVS/Walgreens parking lot convenience etc. — sucks the life out of our community strips.
    4. Throngs of tourists are visiting the areas.

    1. 1. Castro is just as dense as Hayes Valley and Valencia Street, which are being held up as successful (and pricey and exclusive) commercial corridors. Also, the Castro is getting increasingly denser with all the new apartments and condos going up in the area.

      2. Google Express, Amazon Fresh, etc. are expensive services, or soon to be expensive, (yes, I know Google is waiving the delivery fee for right now, but it will soon start charging) and not very convenient unless you need some specific items delivered, like bottled water, etc. If you want to buy clothes or pick out a new paint for your living room or go get a cup of coffee, you are still going to walk outside your door.

      3. Walgreens, etc are all in the Castro and they do not offer parking. As for Target, Costco, etc., people do go to those stores for specific things, but even with parking, it is not as convenient as just walking down the block to pick something up quickly. And, those stores are not substitutes for all types of stores.

      4. I am not sure what tourists have to do with the situation? Currently, the tourists and residents from the rest of the Bay Area mainly come to the Castro in the evening for the nightlife–it is not really a tourist shopping attraction.

      1. I mentioned the tourist factor because I view this year-round surge as a source of opportunity for retail growth in the area. Most tourists don’t know what to do when they visit the Castro but there’s potential here. Not referring to tourist shops rather experiences which are more integrated.

  12. This reminds me, has The Patio re-opened yet? It has been closed for “remodeling” since 1999. Hopefully this strategy can prevent stall tactics of keeping a space on a major commercial closed for 15 years and counting.

    1. Led Natalie is trying to open a Hamburger Mary’s at that location. HM falls under formula retail and requires a CU.

  13. We have to stop thinking of formula retail as a black and white scenario. If formula retail restrictions are what is wrong with the Castro, then how can you explain nearby Hayes Valley or Valencia, which are absolutely thriving in spite of those restrictions (I would argue BECAUSE of those restrictions, but have no empirical data to back that up). Then there is Chestnut which has a vibrant streetlife with many chains (W&S, Pottery Barn, Starbucks, Peet’s, Gap, etc) and yet still has many successful mom and pop stores and one-off restaurants (Heritage Row, Delarosa, Lucca Deli, Marina Market/Marina Meats, Tipsy Pig, Two Skirts, Taylor Stitch, All-Star Donuts, all the dive/wine bars on Chestnut all do insane amounts of business and are cherished parts of the neighborhood). Then you have portions of the city in the South and East where chains are common, and yet street life is dead. Then you have Castro, which has formula restrictions and is dead.

    So there are many ways to do it, and so I doubt formula retail restrictions are either the dealmaker or dealbreaker universally. This needs to be case by case.

    I would guess that expensive rates in general, landlords owning multiple properties and keeping them vacant/charging high rents, the draw of opening a store in vibrant neighboring hoods instead if you really want to get strong business, homeless/drug addiction issues with the neighborhood, a perhaps perceived prejudice that “this is a gay area, if my business does not cater to the LGBT community it cannot thrive”, the merchants association turning down Chipotle/Starbucks, etc ALL contribute to this issue.

    Additionally, somebody in the thread mentioned a restaurant moratorium…that may be a strong factor as well. My fiancee and I have ridiculously long lists of restaurants we’d like to try in many of the NE neighborhoods…in the Castro, perhaps Starbelly is a draw to us to come visit, but many of the local style places we can do in our own neighborhood. We do enjoy Blackbird and Churchill as well, but that is hardly in the middle of the Castro. More destination restaurants may be a good way to bring additional foot traffic to the area. We will make a complete afternoon/night out of it if we go to one of our “must trys” in Hayes, Mission, Richmond, North Beach, etc, perhaps combining it with a day in the park, some shopping, a wine bar, etc.

    1. If I may generalize (in good-natured fun):
      * Hayes Valley & Valencia – young people who have money but who are not yuppies (favor something “unique”)
      * Chestnut – yuppies (who want the same thing Brad and Amanda have next door, i.e., shop at chains)
      * south and east ‘chain’ areas – lower density, and lower per capita income (take West Portal – should be thriving a lot more than it is, but I think the density’s too low)

      That leaves the Castro – in theory should be good money (DINKs!), but I think the (expected / obligatory) presence of bars and sex toy shops gives the area an overall “not Chestnut” feel, that keeps it from quite kicking into a higher, successful gear.

      More seriously – there are a lot of comments on here about high rent, and I don’t dispute those assertions. Yet at the same time, are landowners really that stupid, that they keep rents so high that their premises are empty (and hence generating zero revenue)? Don’t they realize that some revenue is better than no revenue? Is Prop 13 to blame?

  14. Why is West Hollywood booming, and why does it seem so young? Could it be because it is easier to find parking in West Hollywood than the Castro? One has to remember, a lot of the visitors to shops, restaurants and bars in the Castro are not residents of the city, especially on weekends. Even the Halstead District in Chicago, which has an ever expanding collection of bars, shops and condo towers feels younger and fresher than the Castro.

    1. people in LA are youth obsessed. it’s probably all the botox that makes it seem young 🙂

      in all seriousness, the castro is young too. but it’s just on friday and sat night when the bridge and tunnel folks arrive.

    2. The S.F. gay community has always seemed older to me than other cities’ (I’ve lived in Boston, D.C. and L.A. too, and have visited NYC a fair bit). If anything it seems younger now than it did in the 1990s and early 2000s.

      I think a lot of the remaining feel really comes down to grit and grime – from sidewalks to naked guys, the Castro just feels kind of grungy, and not in a fun Seattle music kind of way. A good steam clean of the whole thing, coupled with a couple ‘destination’ restaurants or stores, could do wonders.

      1. It’s not – the Castro is though. That’s what I’m saying – the younger local gay community is not in the Castro every night. I think that’s part of the issue and why it’s lacking the innovation happening in other districts. Not necessarily gentrification but just new and interesting concepts and things to do.

    3. Agreed! The younger gay local community isn’t in the castro because the restaurants suck, the clothing stores are overpriced (even the vintage stores), and the vibe is tired. There are more exciting gay scenes in Midwest cities. We moved to The Castro for the peace and quiet lol. The local homeless scene is nowhere near as bad as SOMA and the Haight … both of which have better restaurants and stores. Not sure what the answer is, but I think NIMBYs play a large role in the vanilla flavor the Castro has taken on in recent years.

    4. 1. Because they build higher density in real numbers. The hint of density here is but a hint of what we need and is coming. Where is everyone?

      2 topography. We live on weird hills and dales; flat areas (west Hollywood) can’t be compared to Castro. Many people here get in their cars here because of the physical challenge of walking. I now live on a hill no one is around, I used to live on a flat street (Carmelita) where there was more lingering. West Hollywood and region is booming we look like a pleasant retirement village in comparison.

    5. WeHo isn’t afraid to add new bars and more parking. V opened a year ago, PUMP opened recently, and Cooley’s new bar is under construction. A few years ago they opened the library parking structure which holds a ton of cars and they’re building a new robotic parking garage at City Hall. They also have the free shuttle running up and down Santa Monica Blvd on weekends.

      The weather plays a big part too. People are more likely to go out and walk around when it’s nice out. All of the bars have large outdoor patios.

    1. Yes, they want over $20,000 a month for the old diesel store and around $11,000 for the former sprint store. Very unrealistic rents.

  15. Castro = Haight. Both are areas dominated by an outdated sense of self which is impossible to displace because of the tourist factor. The Haight gets people from all over the world wanting to see a museum of 1968, and the Castro gets its LGBT crowd seeking their equivalent. I’ve lived in the hood for 10 years and don’t expect it to ever change. The bars are too profitable, and the restaurants serving the bar crowd are able to be terrible and still get by. The thunderdome street kids are drawn to these areas due to ample panhandling opportunities which don’t exist in such abundance absent the tourists. Sorry to be a downer, but the Castro (at least the center of it) will look the same 20 years from now.

    1. i sort of agree with you. there’s not enough incentive to be outstanding because they will get business anyway.

    2. Well, that’s certainly a rather negative overall point of view. So nothing will change. Life stays still.

      While I agree with the extensive panhandling/homeless issue, The Castro is thriving, going thru changes and still lots of fun. The crowd and staff at Sliderbar are always great. Food is fun, affordable and lots of good beers. I’d say the same for Hi-tops. what’s not to like.

      I think if you see the glass half empty rather than half full, you will come away with a bad view of this neighborhood.

      1. I don’t disagree that the Castro is thriving but I do agree that tackiness and mediocre food seems to be the norm. I don’t want it to be Valencia st but there is a lot of leakage in terms of LGBT locals just simply going out in other neighborhoods and not coming to the Castro to hang out or shop.

        1. In a case of “everyone’s right”, I think the area along Castro itself, especially at Market, has too thick a layer of grime (real and psychological). But yes, a couple blocks down Market, you have a nice bright bar like HiTops, the new Illy coffee shop, Pesce… And Castro and 19th is also a little cleaner and brighter. So there are sections that are brighter and more successful too.

          The question is which is going to win out in the long run. With the added residential coming in, my vote (and hope) is that the neighborhood continues to improve.

      2. I’ve lived here a long time (considering my age) and have come to terms with the elements of the neighborhood I don’t care for. I just don’t see the tacky bars, bad restaurants, video stores (!!!) and the like going anywhere due to the tourist element. In the same way, they will be selling tye-dye on Haight forever.

        But I do agree – the portion of the neighborhood near Noe/Sanchez has gotten a lot better.

  16. There is nowhere in the Castro like the Abbey or Revolver in West Hollywood. While West Hollywood has shops like MiuMiu, Paul Smith, Fred Segal, Maxfield, Tom Perse, and restaurants like Lucques, etc. what do we have to compare with? What some people call thriving I would call a dead neighborhood geared towards tourism.

    1. We have decent public transit that takes one from the Castro fairly quickly to Union Square where they have such retail. Unlike LA, it’s not an arduous drive away if it isn’t right near you. San Francisco is a very small city geographically.

    2. Hayes Valley is the go-to choice for boutiques right now. And top restauranteurs are going to look at a good dozen locations before Castro. And I’m not just talking about the obvious Valencia, NOPA, Hayes Valley areas. People hate on Marina/Cow Hollow, but that area has seen so many new restaurants and bars in the last six months, and not to mention “signature” chain stores like Nike.

      Truth is, new high-end restaurant openings and boutique openings are booming everywhere else in the NE neighborhoods. Thinking that the Castro will ever attract those types in the next few years is probably wishful thinking. Castro will have to start with a different direction to grow…because for the high-end/trendy restauranteurs looking to attract foot traffic, you’re going to choose Valencia over Castro. Or Hayes. Or NOPA. Or Fillmore. Or Chestnut. Or Mid-Market. Or SOMA. Or Polk. And it keeps going from there.

  17. It’s just a matter of transition time. The whole city is being transformed for the “common good”. High density development with street level retail that will some day be used is the flavor of the day. It will take a while before the critical mass is developed. But then, with no parking, everyone will be confined to a walkable distance and the retail will have serve local needs. But the “common good” will be fulfilled and the developers and politicians will fly away rich and leave the rest of us to walk through our empty glass ghettos. Thank god this bubble will burst too – so get yours while you can.

  18. Castro St. had La Occtaine & The Body Shop. 2 stores I did not buy from, since I don’t care for their high priced products & like to buy my brand names for less at Marshalls. I asked the managers at both stores why they were closing. Both said because the rents were raised too high. That came directly from them. The building owners are holding out due to greed, & that’s a shame. I don’t like Chipotle, because the local taco shops on 18th & on Church are much better & cheaper. Chipotle’s products are smaller & more expensive, & I don’t think their employees are as nice as the local shop workers. I don’t shop at The Pottery Barn at the corner of Market & Castro. I don’t like plain all white or all tan dishes & table cloths, etc. Their products are boring for urbanites. It would be nice if the Castro had clothing shops geared toward men in the 40s – 50s & not just for teens & 20s boys. Nice work & casual clothes that don’t cost an arm & a leg but that aren’t dowdy, basically like what’s at Marshalls and at TJ Max. I do like the downtown Nordstrom Rack, but that’s not in our hood. I live above the Castro & walk through it twice a day to get to MUNI. I don’t like seeing the homeless druggies at the bus stop on 18th & Castro. We need to vote for SF Moderates’ candidates, but who are they? We need to stop giving all our tax $ to Jennifer Freidenbach & the HAC/homeless coalition & instead use the money to hire more MUNI officers to actually enforce their rules & provide us tax payers with safety. We need to get rid of bleeding heart fake progressive board members that want to keep the status quo of taxing us highly & spending it on obnoxious things that don’t help property tax payers. I’m tired of carrying all the free loaders. Let them move to Ohio! I have so much more to say!

  19. The talk about nostalgia and Castro food is making me laugh. Do any of you remember Castro restaurants of 20 years ago? Or 10? They were truly awful. Basically greasy burgers and mashed potatoes. That all made sense with a crowd that was largely young and male and drunk. The area has grown up a lot since then. I see more families with little kids (including my own) than I ever would have imagined in this neighborhood, and also far higher incomes.

    I’d like to see the retail vacancies filled, but there is so much retail in this area it is not like a whole lot is lacking. I can get about 95% of anything we need within a few blocks. They are constructing so many new residential buildings that are now coming on line that I’m pretty sure places will fill up.

    A few of those crummy old places remain (just as the Mission continues to be filled with cheap crummy places along with some very good newer additions), but the options in the Castro are far better than they used to be. Frances, Bisou, Starbelly, and Kitchen Story are all good. And L’Ardoise on the north side of Market is extremely good.

    1. I guess that’s probably my bad that I’ve never heard of any of these places aside from Starbelly 🙂 I remember liking it the first time I was there but subsequent times I found it really lost it’s luster. I certainly hope things get better! Not necessarily more pricy but just better quality. Also most of the clothing stores are tacky as hell! :-p @SierraJeff, leave the sex shops. If families want to move in they can deal. They’re the only shops selling anything useful! haha

    2. I remember restaurants from the 70s and early 80s, longer than 20 years ago. They were good, interesting, not expensive, not chains.

  20. I have a brilliant solution: Lower rents

    If the spaces are not renting, clearly the asking rent is simply too high.

    1. You are looking at a “solution” from the neighborhood’s perspective. From a landlord’s perspective, it is a calculated risk to keep the property empty and forgo current rent for the prospect of either locking in a long-term very high-paying tenant or being able to sell the property to a purchaser willing to pay a high price for a property that does not have a “low” paying tenant they have to buy out.

      A landlord who can afford to do so and who wants the highest return will be glad to keep a property empty for years so long as they determine they can eventually lock in a long-term lease at the rent they want which will make up for the years of no rental income, or more easily sell to another investor for a high enough price that makes up for not having a tenant in the building.

  21. I think the reason why the landlords are greedy is because Castro has a history of bringing in a lot of revenue where high rents could be charged, Where as Hayes Valley and Valencia in the somewhat recent past were neglected and a bit rundown. The foot traffic that Hayes Valley and Valencia Street are getting now are a lot more than before and therefore the stores are having higher revenue than they had before and therefore the landlords are charging higher rents than before. Things are on an upswing. I think Castro’s very lucrative past is what is preventing it from becoming what it wants to become. It is going to take time for those landlords to realize those storefronts are NOT worth what they used to be. Commercial land ownership is no longer the gold mine that used to be. And while we are waiting for this realization and acceptance, that equals vacant storefronts. What is sad is that it might get worse before it gets better but I hope not.

  22. Reasons for high rent? Well, if your building is worth a fortune to developers and the residential units are rent controlled, you cannot decently accept a low rent. Landlords are not charities. If the market cannot sustain those rents then the landlord will have to decide what to do with the building.

    Commercial leases allow landlords to make up for missed income on residential. Sometimes it’s their only safety valve to be in the black. Yet another unforeseen effect of rent control.

    1. “If the market cannot sustain those rents then the landlord will have to decide what to do with the building.” Given the number of vacant storefronts, and the length of time some of them have been empty, those landlords have some serious problems with their decision-making skills.

      “Commercial leases allow landlords to make up for missed income on residential. Sometimes it’s their only safety valve to be in the black.” Except, again, $8,000/month x 12 months of vacant space = $0; $5,500/month x 12 months of occupancy = $66,000. An overpriced space sitting empty is hardly allowing a landlord to “make up for missed income” or “be in the black”.

      1. Yes, and it will unravel at some point for the less realistic ones. There are some empty storefronts, vacancy is at 7%. It’s not rosy but it’s not a catastrophe neither. Some landlords are greedy and are probably looking at the the office space turnaround that has happened since 2010. Office space owners who didn’t give in in price in 2010 have gained big time since.
        Now retail is a different animal. But the reality is often that these landlord can afford the loss in revenue. And if they cannot get the retail they want, they’ll redevelop, like the failed Starbucks project. It’s a long term game.

        1. “these landlord can afford the loss in revenue”

          Plus, I suspect that some of these landlords are just lazy. And leaving something empty is less work than dealing with tenants. So even where they’re losing money (which they can afford), they take the easy route while pretending they’re being smart businesspeople by holding out for higher prices.

          1. I am not quite sure why someone would willfully choose to be lazy when quite a lot of their own money is on the line and they are in the business of investing in real estate–I think this is just unsupported speculation on your part.

            What I do believe is that some landlords are willing to hold out for either higher rents or some buyer to come along and purchase their property for a hefty price.

            In either case, people holding on to properties for higher rents or the right selling price is not something zoning or merchant marketing can solve. People are free to do with their private property as they see fit, and if they want to keep a building empty, so long as they keep it clean and secure, then they have that absolute right.

          2. So again at least one finger points at Prop 13. If we elminated Prop 13 covereage for commercial (and industrial) parcels, we’d raise revene and incentivize landlords to do something with their vacant / undeveloped properties. I know of no East Coast city where you can walk around and find completely empty lot

          3. SierraJeff,

            Very good point. Say you have medium sized landlord with 10 buildings and a similar number of storefronts, all owned for 30+ years in the family. His performing storefronts allow him to make a very decent income, and since there’s Prop 13 the holding cost of empty units is not enormous.

            Let’s say someone bought a building with a store and 2 rentals in 1980 for 300K. His property tax today for the whole building will be roughly 6K. Small change in this business.
            Now, without prop 13 his property tax could be 25 or 30K. There’s little doubt landlords would think twice before leaving their stores empty.
            If anything, repealing prop 13 would help with the supply side of the SF rental business, even for housing. But if this happens, we’ll have to get rid of rent control because the situation would be untenable for many small landlords.

  23. Maybe it would be helpful to see how that second-only-to-Union-Square economic activity is distributed across types of businesses. A wild guess would be that the mix between shopping and entertainment is quite different. Only so many cool “artisan” gaywear stores can survive in that neighborhood and how many sidewalk cafes do you really need? Fortunately our society has progressed to the point where the Castro is not a “gay ghetto” anymore.

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