Castro skillfully hangs on to retailers 

While other San Francisco neighborhoods struggle to fill empty storefronts, the Castro district has managed to put a lid on the revolving door of retailers at the height of the recession.

The neighborhood boasts a low vacancy rate, estimated at 5 percent, compared with other areas such as the Bayview district, where empty storefronts skyrocketed to 20 percent at the end of last year, according to city officials.

The Castro neighborhood credits its 3-year-old Business Attraction Program, which connects landlords with potential tenants — quickly.

The program — with just two part-time employees — is funded through the Castro Community Benefit District at the tune of $15,000 annually. It runs its operations out of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center on Market Street.

“We are not immune — we have people who closed shop, but then we will fill up those shops in two to five months,” said Steve Adams, president of the Merchants of Upper Market & Castro.

The business attraction program is one of the most proactive in The City — once a month the staff holds tours of buildings to show brokers potential spaces that are, or will be, available for rent, said Tracey Williams, business assistance specialist with the Economic Development Center, where the program is housed.

They also track vacant properties and create “pop-up” stores, where they find space for retailers that might rent for a couple of months until a master tenant moves in, Williams said. At 499 Castro St, for instance, Williams said they were able to get a furniture store to lease the spot for a few months while the master tenant works out its permitting issues. The benefit is that the furniture store can test the market, she said.

The program’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed — other struggling neighborhoods are trying to emulate the program, which started at the height of the recession when business activity slowed and vacancy rates were high.

In the Central Market area, which is gaining momentum for its artsy revitalization and gritty makeover, neighborhood leaders have already met with city officials and other nonprofits to talk about how to make business attraction a bigger priority as the area limps out of the recession.

But their reasons are different — it has less to do with filling storefronts and more to do with filling storefronts with more “positive businesses.” That means fewer liquor stores, cash-checking businesses and porn shops, said Daniel Hurtado, executive director for the Central Market Community Benefit District.

“We are working closely with property owners to think strategically on what kind of businesses to bring in,” Hurtado said. “In the past, property owners might not care about who comes in they just wanted anyone who will pay rent.”

All business

Some functions the Castro Business Improvement District provides:

- Cleaning related services such as sweeping and graffiti removal
- Community Guides — goodwill ambassadors
- Street/sidewalk improvements and pedestrian safety
- Economic vitality and business attraction
- Commercial vacancy information
- Broker tours
- Marketing information
- Business consultation

Source: CBID

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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