The displaced businesses

There's a downside to the real-estate boom on Market Street

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Grant's Tobacconists, established in 1849, lost its lease amid rising commercial rents.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY ANNA STERLING

news@sfbg.com

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.

Comments

I was regular customer of Grants for years. I finally stopped patronizing them when I witnessed one of the owners verbally abuse a friend of mine. No business can survive when you send your regulars packing.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

The previous commenter is correct. I had been a regular customer for several years and finally stopped patronizing them. The abusive behavior by one of the owners just got too much to deal with.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

Really. The premise of this article seems to be that Lee's Twitter deal and similar policies are going to drive out small businesses. It then holds up this small Tobacco store up as an example. The twitter deal was done to revitalize Mid-Market- i.e. 6th and Market. This store was way down on 2nd and Market. A very different area. 2nd and Market is right next to the financial district. I think the likeliehood that the hoped for revitalization of Mid-Market is hardly to blame for this small store going down, sad as it is. Same goes for the bike store- frankly seems like a horrible location- a family friendly bike store on Market near the financial district? eeek. Not a lot of kids down there.

Frankly, I would like to know the SFBG's big blame for mid-market? The opposition to the twitter deal etc. is apparent, so if not twitter- then what- the status quo of drug deals, sleazy hotels and drunks- what would the SFBG do to fix up Mid-Market?

Posted by D. Native on Nov. 08, 2012 @ 6:09 am

First, Second and Market is nowhere near the Mid-Market area. That intersection is right in the heart of downtown, which has always been a high-rent district.

Second, a story about an old tobacco store moving is (a) not representative of all small businesses on Market Street, and (b) at the very best, anecdotal evidence of small busineses being affected by rising rents on Market Street,

Third, is a tobacco store really the highest and best use of a retail space on market Street?

Fourth, why not move the store to a cheaper location? Apparently, Grant's has been around for 160-years, but it only has been at 2nd and Market since 1963. I guess it changed locations several times over the years, and it could do it again.

Sorry, but perhaps it is simply time for Grant's to move on, or even go out-of-business. How many people really need a tobacco store anymore? Even among smokers, very few I suspect.

Posted by Chris on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

I was amused by the name of the bike store... and wrongly surmised it was intended to be a bit of humor based on a Spoonerism.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 11, 2012 @ 11:34 am

Stores have come and gone, taste changes, styles change, small businesses owners face all sorts of hurdles, changing customer trends. What about all the other small businesses that were push out before the Dot.com 1 and 2, That nice place you might eat at, or the coffee shop you go to might have displaced or caused someone to go out of business due to the increase in rents.

Posted by Garrett on Nov. 14, 2012 @ 11:10 am

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