While no official announcement has been made, the restaurant and bar space at 1838 Union Street, which has been home to Ottimista Enoteca-Café since 2005, is being quietly being offered for lease with a “below market rent,” an opportunity to acquire Ottimista’s liquor license, furniture and fixtures, and an availability as of the end of last month.

At the same time, there are at least fifteen (15) other storefronts on the main stretch of Union Street, between Steiner and Gough, which are either sitting empty or searching for new tenants.

20 thoughts on “Union Street Vacancy Count and Restaurant on the Ropes”
  1. Not surprising. We are seeing this citywide and across the nation. Retail consumption patterns have hit a tipping point. Can’t say I’ve thought of a solution.

    1. Well, landlords could charge less rent. Seriously, you talk with any owner of of small business or restaurant and they will tell you the rent is a huge part of the operating costs. And retail rents have been rising dramatically in SF for many years. Perhaps they have gotten to high to allow businesses to be viable and a correction is in order.

      1. @NoeNeighbor, I agree, but perhaps property owners who purchased their building in the past three years were counting on a higher rental income for the investment to earn the desired return. They may want to preserve their business model and wait for a tenant who will to pay a higher rent rather than leasing to tenant at a lower rent and locking in an underperforming or loss-making investment.

    2. I’m not sure cafes and restaurants qualify for the whole “Amazon is taking our jobs” thing.

      Regardless, whatever (or whomever) is causing the influx of vacancies, I’d confidently place cost per sf at the top of the list of suspects.

      1. Lots of places that are closing down are just outdated retail stores. New restaurants are doing very well on Union. Belga, flores, palm house, C. Wine Merchant are almost always full.

  2. Because location in a place like Union Street is not fungible, whatever price is agreed upon is the market rent. The only way to offer something above market is to not have any takers, at which point you know you are charging above market. Similarly if you have multiple would be takers trying to outbid each other, then you know your initial offering was below market.

    Often landlords think they know the market but find there are no bidders, at which point they are not offering the rent at below market when they cut the price, but rather they are trying to find the market price, which just happened to be different from what they had originally thought.

  3. Doesn’t Union Street have a strict cap on restaurants/bars, unlike vibrant Chestnut? I lived very close until last August, and it seemed like there were always empty storefronts, and yet the few hip restaurants (Belga, Flores now, Palm House, etc) had massive waits and were constantly packed.

    I bet if they relaxed that, many of the spots would be leased quickly. We were always dying for more options.

    1. There was certainly a cap before at least 10 years ago, I doubt it has been rescinded. The cap was for the neighbors who complained about too many people driving in and parking in the neighborhood, and it was thought by limiting restaurants it would make parking more available.

      But nowadays patterns are different and more people are taking uber/lyft to places so there should be some ability to increase the cap without impacting neighborhood parking so much. I doubt they would eliminate it entirely.

    2. Yup. We live up the hill and the top 2 places we visit on Union are restaurants the 3rd being Sur la Table but more often than not we walk right by and go to Chestnut. More restaurants and wine bars would be fantastic and would get a lot more of our business.

  4. Over decades, Union Street has often had too many vacancies. At one time, the gossip was that some of the “businesses” were engaged in other more lucrative activities such as money laundering, but I have seen no support for this. Even in the 1980s, there were people saying that there were too many stores selling “junk.” More restaurants would be welcome. Years ago we lived close to Union Street, but now up the hill, we rarely go back.

  5. I used to go to Union Street often, but I have seen it die a few years ago. Retail businesses have complained about the rents. Empty store fronts hurt other businesses – it is like a blight that spreads up and down the street. The street used to have a wonderful mix of interesting shops and restaurants. People who own the property and ask for unrealistic rents are hurting themselves. The market place is doing what is predictable, adjusting to reality.

  6. Why pay rent for an “interesting shop” when one can simply open a “shop” online or work with Amazon?

  7. If there is indeed a cap on restaurant and bar space you have your answer. Not a whole lot of viable retail being opened these days, if landlords can’t rent to these businesses they will be stuck waiting for the very few retail tenants avialabke to them. We are a service based economy now, no amount of regulation, moaning, complaining or wishful thinking will change that. If there is a limit, the neighborhood is self destructing and shouldn’t blame anyone else.

  8. Online retail is a factor for the problems on Union Street, but Hayes and Chestnut are flourishing. Why? The other streets have distinct marketing positions. Chestnut has the Apple Store and a retail/restaurant mix appealing to a young, but not edgy, set. Hayes Street has SFJazz and a retail/restaurant mix with a young, urban vibe. What is Union Street’s positioning? I don’t know. My suggestion: a little more upscale and international, like Laduree and Taschen Books.

    1. That’s not the only reason. Hayes and Chestnut can have as many restaurants, bars, and cafes as they want. Union cannot. Whenever there is a restaurant that closes on Union, the replacement restaurant is always a huge hit. Belga, Flores, Palm House draw giant crowds. If the cap was lifted, those empty storefronts would fill in seconds, and the well-paid 20 and 30 somethings that live in the area would flock to them just like they have to the others.

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