Library overhauls bring in new business

When the Potrero Hill neighborhood library closed for renovations, merchants didn’t realize the impact it would have on the 20th Street business corridor.

The 23-month project to overhaul the 60-year-old library left the area lacking pedestrians and ultimately hurt local businesses. But, since its reopening in March, the Potrero Hill Merchants and Business Association and merchants themselves say business has improved.

“There has definitely been an increase [in foot traffic],” association President Keith Goldstein said. “We’re happy the library is reopened. We definitely saw a drop-off.”

The Potrero branch closed in May 2008 as part of the Branch Library Improvement Program, an effort to renovate or replace 23 of The City’s 27 locations.

Renovations are funded through a $105.9 million voter-approved bond passed in 2000.

The Golden Gate, Merced, Park, Parkside and Presidio branches are currently closed for renovations.

Potrero Hill’s circulation — materials checked out — was roughly 23,999 four months prior to closing for upgrades, library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers said. Since March, though, circulation has increased more than 172 percent to 65,358, which suggests that more library patrons are now walking down 20th Street.

Jeffers said all libraries that have been renovated are seeing more traffic.

“[We are] definitely seeing increases across the board,” she said.

According to library circulation data, increases in foot traffic have occurred at the past four libraries to open after renovations. Potrero may have been the most dramatic increase, but the Bernal Heights branch’s circulation increased 110 percent after it reopened in January.

Mike Dawson, manager of the Good Life Grocery across from the Bernal Heights library, said he too has seen more people coming through his doors.

Good Life Grocery has a location down the street from the Potrero Hill branch. Dawson said both markets are seeing an increase in business since the libraries reopened.

Jeffers said the combination of the recession and the new facilities could be reasons for the dramatic increases.

“People are trying to think of ways to cut back,” Jeffers said. “Maybe they get rid of Netflix or buying books and are getting them from the library, then having a bright, shiny new one come in helps.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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