There's a downside to the real-estate boom on Market Street
Grant's Tobacconists is a rare San Francisco business that can trace its roots all the way back to the Gold Rush. For more than 160 years, the company has been selling cigars, pipes, tobacco tins, house blends, and smoking accessories; legend has it Emperor Norton was among the early customers. It's also been home to California's first and largest walk-in humidor, and one of the only tobacco shops offering its customers a lounge area to smoke and relax in.
As of last month, however, you won't be able to find Grant's in San Francisco. A storefront on Market and 2nd Street has been home to the outfit since 1963 — but now, as a new gold rush hits the Market Street corridor, the rent has gone too high. Grant's lost its lease; what may be the oldest continuously operated small business in San Francisco is now homeless.
"It started as off them wanting to renovate and build into our space in the humidor," Jason Quijano, the store manager, said. "It seemed to me they just wanted us out. They definitely want to increase the rent in here and overhaul everything."
My Dutch Bike, right across the street from Grant's, also lost its home — under similar circumstances. The company is owned by Oscar Mulder and Soraya Nasirian and sells family-friendly, handmade Dutch city bicycles that allow people to ride safely around town with a small child in tote.
"We started in 2009. My husband is Dutch," Nasirian said. "We had a little baby and rode our bikes in Holland with our son up front. It was an amazing and eye-opening experience to be able to ride with my little one on my bike. It was liberating,"
For three and a half years, they've operated out of 575 Market Now, if you're looking for one of the Dutch specialty bikes, you'll have to order it online or hike up to 60 Gate Five Road in Sausalito, where the new store is.
SIGN OF THE TIMES?
Small businesses in San Francisco lose their leases all the time; rents go up, landlords want to renovate buildings ... it's just part of life for local entrepreneurs.
But the rent hikes along Market Street may be an indicator of a new wave of changes driven by the surge in tech money.
While Mayor Ed Lee is happily touting the changes that have come to Market Street — with tech companies drawn to the formerly rundown mid-Market area by healthy tax breaks — there's a downside to San Francisco economic booms. As landlords scramble to get in on the cash coming from companies willing to pay high rents, the little folks get pushed out.
That happened on a grand scale between 1999 and 2001, when the dot-com boom drove up rents and forced community businesses and institutions out. One of the most famous battles revolved around what was then the Bay View Bank building on 22nd and Mission streets, where a dot-com called Bigstep took over space that had been used by community-serving businesses (immigration lawyers, tax advisors, nonprofits). All of the existing tenants were forced out; many left the city. Across the street, a dance studio that served hundreds of people and several organizations was evicted to make room for a dot-com.
It's a challenge that the city can't seem to handle: How do you do economic development in an area that needs it without forcing longtime tenants who have reasonable rents out of town?
Thea Selby, a candidate for District 5 supervisor, runs a small business that's a direct victim of the Twitter Effect. Her company, Next Step Marketing, works with magazines, online entities, and occasionally newspapers. She and her seven employees were recently displaced after 10 years at Market and Mason.