Tons of small businesses leave the city

March 2, 2009 7:00:54 PM PST
San Francisco leaders are trying to figure out how to stimulate the city's economy. Part of the agenda targets small businesses, which make up 99-percent of business in the city, but for some, it comes too late.

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Retail space for lease signs are becoming a sign of the times. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has surveyed some neighborhood commercial corridors and found on a stretch of Mission Street there are 81 empty stores, along Third Street there were 42, and upscale Union Street has 15 vacancies.

The city's Small Business Commission blames the economy and San Francisco's taxes, fees and mandates.

"We've actually seen businesses move out of the city. We've seen businesses that say if they expand, they won't in San Francisco, but they will expand outside San Francisco," said Richard Ventura, from the San Francisco Small Business Commission.

The commission begins meeting Monday night to work on strategies to help existing merchants and land future ones.

The owner of the Ritual Coffee Roaster on Valencia Street says the city needs to make it easier to open shop.

"I know there were five or six other coffee shops trying to open and they didn't make it through the process. Either they had a hard time finding the space or a problem with permitting," said Eileen Hassi, from the Ritual Coffee Roaster.

There are 24 vacant storefronts on her street. Hassi believes landlords want to charge too much. American Apparel was willing to pay to lease one of those empty spots, but Stephen Elliot led a successful community campaign to keep the chain store out.

"When you have a mega chain, a giant corporation, like American Apparel moving in on a locally-owned street, they are taking money out of the neighborhood," said Elliot.

Mayor Gavin Newsom says that kind of opposition is not helpful for the business climate.

On Monday supervisors reviewed his economic stimulus plan. It includes millions in federal money to offer zero interest loans to small businesses.

"These are the folks out in the neighborhoods where you see three or four for lease signs in a row and there's a business barely holding on. It's that business barely holding on that we want to target," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom believes that money will start flowing later this month.

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