The commercial landscape in the Mission district today is a far cry from years past, when businesses could be opened on a handshake, said Martha Sanchez, owner of the restaurant Casa Sanchez, which began serving Mexican food at 2778 24th St. in 1972.
“It worked out fine for decades,” she said. “A piece of paper with details written on it — that’s the way Latinos did business. But now a lot of these businesses don’t have leases and they have no rights so they can get evicted just like that.”
The Mission is home to the highest number of housing evictions in The City, and tenant advocates have prompted local leaders to introduce protective legislation. But merchant supporters are proposing safeguards for mom-and-pop shops as well, as they say such businesses are even more vulnerable to displacement.
LACK OF SAFEGUARDS
Unlike residential units, commercial buildings are not subject to rent control, and evicted merchants are not given relocation funds.
“There have been evictions of longtime merchants in the Mission, and it’s part of the same issue as the housing,” said Small Business Commission member Kathleen Dooley. “I hear about landlords just raising the rent like to the moon.” In one case, she said, rent went from $1,500 a month to $5,000.
With developers kicking out taquerias and other long-established businesses, “You’re losing the soul, the fabric, the mom-and-pop,” said William Ortiz-Cartagena, another Small Business Commission member.
“It’s funny, because in neighborhoods where the merchant corridor is socio-economically challenged, like English as a second language, it happens,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in Noe Valley and Hayes Valley, where merchants are vocal.”
Some new merchants have worked to preserve the Mission’s character, like the owner of Pig & Pie, who continued to display the former Discolandia Latin music store sign. Still, locals see each new business as a potential threat to some historic murals that line the corridor.
Gentrification is not new in the Mission, markedly on Valencia Street, which in the mid-1990s began transforming into a hip, upscale commercial corridor. A second wave of new businesses there is now pushing out Latino family-owned businesses like 780 Cafe and Encantada Gallery of Fine Art, which seeks to relocate on 24th Street.
RESTAURANTS MOVE IN
While 24th Street remains the highest concentration of Latino businesses in a dozen blocks — 17 of 130 between Mission and Potrero streets — it faces increasing pressures from prospectors, said Erick Arguello, president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association.
A recommended breakdown for a commercial corridor is 75 percent retail and 25 percent food service establishments, according to the Planning Department.
On 24th Street, food service establishments make up about 33 percent of businesses — a figure Arguello said the association has been struggling to cap with so much interest from high-end restaurateurs.
The Our Mission No Eviction Coalition, formed in the past few months to protest housing evictions, brainstormed protections for the commercial sector.
In mid-November, the group proposed to Supervisor David Campos and Mayor Ed Lee a tax break for landlords who offer leases of at least 10 years to “legacy” and longtime businesses, and relocation funds for evicted merchants.
“We are very concerned about the displacement of so many small businesses in the neighborhood and are open to these and other options,” Campos said. “We hope to come up with something in the next few weeks.”
The City is piloting a new program to provide legal assistance to small businesses at risk of eviction or displacement, said mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey. A nonprofit partner is currently being selected and the program could launch as early as January.
OLD AND NEW After Sanchez’s mother passed away from a heart attack at the restaurant in 2011, the family decided to lease the space they bought for another restaurant.
“We got offers of over $200,000 from people that wanted to rent it, and that’s just to get the key, not for monthly rent or repairs or nothing,” she said.
But Sanchez decided instead to lease to the local Banuelos family, whose restaurant La Posta on 24th and Alabama streets was evicted from a building that was torn down for high-end condos.
“We wanted to bring them back as a minor victory because they were there for over 35 years,” Sanchez said. “The high-end restaurant people were angry when we told them we chose someone else. They acted very entitled, thought we were stupid Mexicans or something, that we were just going to jump when they offered us money.”
Some new merchants on lower 24th Street say they do not need to operate like the traditional mom-and-pop shops to fit into the community.
With more than one demographic in the neighborhood nowadays, there’s plenty of business for everyone, said Michael Meadows, who opened La Movida Wine Bar & Community Kitchen in July at 3066 24th St., where the owners of a Mexican restaurant retired after 13 years.
“Honestly, it seems as though the merchant association wants to protect the businesses here but not really grow anything,” said Meadows, who has lived in the area for two decades. “Like, we’re not doing anything like a Christmas parade and we’re supposed to be doing a First Friday event and I haven’t heard anything about it.”
Legacy businesses are not against progress, insisted Ortiz-Cartagena, who is also a Mission Economic Development Agency board member, but he said merchants who were not fortunate enough to buy their space, such as Sanchez, should have a fighting chance to stay.
“Change will happen. Everyone should be for change in San Francisco,” he said. “But nobody should be excluded or presented with artificial barriers.”