Addressing our Vacant Storefronts and Supporting our Commercial Corridors

I am committed to helping our local small businesses adapt to the major shifts we are seeing in the retail industry. This means streamlining our city bureaucracy so that opening a store or getting a permit is straightforward and simple, creating new programs to highlight our commercial corridors, and increasing flexibility so businesses can use their space in a way that makes sense for them.

Mayor Breed and Supervisor Brown browsing records at Rooky Ricardo’s Records on Haight Street

Supervisor Vallie Brown and I have announced a Citywide Storefront Vacancy Strategy to retain, strengthen, and attract businesses to commercial corridors throughout San Francisco. This initiative includes an investment of nearly $1 million that responds to the City’s vacant storefronts and addresses the need for new legislation, new programs, and administrative reforms to ensure the ongoing vibrancy and vitality of neighborhood commercial districts.

Across the nation, cities are grappling with storefront vacancies as retail sales slow. Shopping habits and trends have shifted over the past few years and various types of storefront businesses continue to face local challenges, such as the cost of labor, price of rent, and demographic shifts. Many neighborhood commercial districts are beginning to demonstrate modest increases in vacancy rates, and community organizations and stakeholders have observed the closure of long-standing retailers and persistently empty commercial spaces and storefronts.

The Citywide Storefront Vacancy Strategy is a multi-pronged approach that involves three main elements: new legislation, new programs, and administrative reforms.

New legislation aims to remove existing barriers and support modern business models by enabling local entrepreneurs to provide residents and visitors with experiences and services that are reflective of each neighborhood’s unique character; including:

— Streamlining the permit review process to remove barriers to opening, expanding, relocating, and/or operating a small business and making it as simple and efficient as possible.

— Supporting a broader range of space uses and creative solutions to activate storefronts, including combining uses within one location, allowing temporary pop-up uses, and promoting new uses.

— Supporting temporary activation on vacant development sites.

New program investments of nearly $1 million to retain, attract, and strengthen small businesses — leveraging existing programs and creating new ones such as:

— Vacant storefront and corridor-wide assessments to determine the cause of a vacancy and developing a roadmap to fill vacancies.

— Case management services by facilitating property owner relationships and generating a pipeline of prospective tenants to fill vacant storefronts.

— Leverage existing city programs and services to support small businesses with technical and financial services and lease negotiations to help small businesses succeed and thrive.

Administrative reforms will make it easier for small businesses to obtain permits easier by allowing as many permits over-the-counter as possible. This will allow people to open their business more quickly, reducing their startup time and costs, and positioning them for future success.

— Strengthening coordination between city agencies, enabling small businesses to get their permits over-the-counter, rather than waiting months for their applications to move through all of the City departments.

The strategy is guided by findings in a report from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development released in February called ‘State of the Retail Sector: Challenges and Opportunities for San Francisco’s Neighborhood Commercial Districts.’