Fed-up merchants pitch empty-storefronts fine 

The storefront across from Dan Macchiarini’s business in North Beach has been vacant for years.

In response, the owner of Macchiarini’s Creative Designs said he and other merchants in the neighborhood are banding together to change that by pushing for a fee for landlords the longer a store remains unoccupied.

“They have no incentive to have a real market system,” Macchiarini said.

He said a loophole in the tax structure allows landlords to keep spaces unoccupied. If a building is vacant, the owner can write it off as a loss. But empty storefronts hurt the neighborhood, Macchiarini said.

“It becomes blighted if it’s all empty,” he said. “But if you have a series of places rented and that are totally functional, then what happens is it’s a destination for shoppers and it drives the blight away.”

Macchiarini said merchants have been working with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents the neighborhood, to create legislation that would fine landlords with vacant storefronts as an incentive to bring in businesses. The longer the store is unoccupied, the heavier the fine.

At last count, North Beach had 36 vacancies, according to North Beach Merchants Association documents. Many of the storefronts are located on Columbus Avenue, Grant Avenue and Powell Street.

One has been vacant since 1986 and another 1999. A store located in the 700 block of Filbert Street has been marked by neighborhood merchants as a potential hardware store.

Kathleen Dooley, a member of the Small Business Commission, said business owners and residents would like to see more neighborhood-serving shops, like grocery or hardware stores, instead of more restaurants.

Rents range from $2,500 a month to $11,500 a month, depending on the location and size of the space and the property’s owner.

Representatives from Chiu’s office said the matter is in the hands of the Small Business Commission. Dooley, though, said the process is moving slower than expected. When the commission sent out a survey to building owners in the past year, not one was returned.

Dooley said the lack of response is forcing the commission to look at legislation as a means of changing landlord behaviors.

“We realize so many spaces are vacant, which causes owners to ask for way higher rents than the norm, and that doesn’t help anyone,” she said. “It seems it’s time to take up tax credits for filled stores.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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