One businesswoman has her eyes on potential customers getting on and off planes at San Francisco International Airport — with an emphasis on getting off.
Nenna Joiner wants to open up SFO’s first sex toy shop but is prevented from doing so by the terms of the airport’s small business program, which she said isn’t meeting its goal of helping truly small, local businesses.
She’s not alone. While the program is billed as a way to give a leg up to small businesses, many do not qualify for a reason that has Joiner incensed:
They’re too small.
Joiner wants to open a satellite location of her Feelmore sex shop in Oakland so the airport’s 55 million annual passengers can purchase vibrators and lubricant on their way into The City. But SFO’s Terminal 3 Pop-Up Retail Program, which is designed to provide an affordable, temporary space for small businesses, requires more revenue than many businesses are able to generate.
Other small businesses rejected from the program did not meet the annual revenue threshold of $250,000, though the program is pitched to the business community as being specifically for smaller retailers.
Now, Joiner is lobbying the airport to lower the minimum revenue required to $150,000 in gross sales to allow, what she calls, true mom-and-pop shops to participate in the program.
“This is a way for The City and county to reach out to smaller businesses,” Joiner said.
Joiner said she has operated her Oakland sex toy shop for eight years, and contends that is more than enough experience to operate in a high-stakes area like SFO. At a Jan. 16 Airport Commission meeting, she pitched her case to the commissioners.
The retail program was designed to provide opportunities to businesses that “might not otherwise be able” to enter the airport business community, said SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel. The airport sets up spaces in Terminal 3, where shops can operate for one year at a low cost and with little construction required, since the space is move-in ready.
Yakel disputed Joiner’s claims and said, “We do feel that the program has been successful.”
Some participants have gone on to forge partnerships within the SFO business community even after their one-year lease is up, Yakel said. And the requirements of the program were specifically set so pop-up tenants have “a reasonable opportunity for success at the airport, by ensuring that they have reached a sufficient level of business activity.”
The deadline to apply for the program was Feb. 14. The shops selected for the contract are scheduled to be announced March 20, according to SFO bidding documents.
Of those shops whose applications were rejected from the program, Yakel said, “In all cases, this was a result of not meeting all the requirements outlined in the [Request for Proposals].”
Those requirements include a base revenue of $250,000 annually for brick-and-mortar stores.
In past iterations of the program, the airport awarded the contract to businesses making much more than that amount: San Francycle reported $600,000 in gross sales in its application to SFO; the Exploratorium Museum Store reported $585,000 in gross sales in its application; and NYS Collection Eyewear, a locally owned franchise from an international chain, reported $660,743 in gross sales in its application, according to public records obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.
Noe Valley gift shop Wink SF was one of the rejected applicants, according to public records. Owned by Teresa Hagiya and Marcy Israel, the shop has appeared in top businesses lists and delighted 24th Street neighbors for 11 years.
Like Joiner, Hagiya felt the revenue requirement was too onerous.
The airport told the community “they were looking for local businesses, that that’s what they were looking for and was their motivation to create the program,” Hagiya said. “From my experience, it didn’t turn out to be that way.”
When Wink SF applied in 2016, one of the contract awardees was the Exploratorium Museum Store, which took Hagiya by surprise.
“Say I had a softball team, and you find you’re competing against the Giants,” she said. “You’d go, ‘Wow, hey, I didn’t know they were accepted into this league.’”
Miriam Zouzounis, a member of the San Francisco Small Business Commission, said the revenue requirement may be too high for a sole proprietor to apply, as opposed to local chains.
“Boudin [Bakery] is still considered a small business, but they have PR capabilities and can claim more on their taxes with gross [revenue],” she said. “We don’t want to limit it to just those types of San Francisco small businesses.”
Zouzounis said the threshold “probably has to be lowered” if the airport is truly trying to aid a smaller-scale business.
Not all businesses who were refused feel the contract is too onerous, however.
Ghassan Daibis, a San Francisco native and owner of Hidden Hype Boutique in the Serramonte Mall, said it makes sense to keep the revenue requirements high.
Daibis’ family has operated Mission Bar & Grill in the airport for 18 years. He said keeping a high minimum ensures a business is prepared for the logistical hardships of operating there.
“If you’re not doing $250,000 a year, I’m not sure you’re ready to do a pop-up shop in the airport, to be honest,” he said.
SFO has revised the requirements of the program to further benefit small businesses in the past. In 2016, the Airport Commission proposed changes to limit businesses from applying that already existed in other locations in the airport, because staff said the program was intended to give stores without access to the airport a chance to thrive.
At the time, Airport Director Ivar Satero told the commission, “We hope to see new concepts” with the pop-up program.
Joiner said her sex shop is a new concept, but that airport staff may find it too radical. “It’s not like an olive oil store,” she said.
She added, “We definitely wouldn’t sell handcuffs in the airport,” and would concentrate on lubricants not obviously marked for sex, and vibrators or other intimate products with sleek, professional packaging.
The shop could serve many passengers flying to San Francisco for the annual BDSM-themed Folsom Street Fair or the LGBT Pride Parade, among other high-profile events in which people are known to explore new sexual horizons.
“As a sex store, fighting for this is different than a shoe store fighting for this,” Joiner said. “Pray for more, but be grateful for what you get.”