David Chen was four months from celebrating his furniture store’s 11-year anniversary on Valencia Street when his landlord gave him an early surprise: his rent would triple.
“We are a local small business,” Chen said shaking his head as he stood in his new space where a backless chaise lounge costs $475 and a minimalistic arm chair, $45. “We can’t pay that much.”
The increase would take his rent from $6,100 a month, which was roughly what he had been paying since he opened The Touch in 2002, to $16,000.
He clearly had to move, but in the realm of rising rent stories, Chen’s reads like a fairytale with a reasonable landlord and a soft landing on Mission Street.
Chen’s new landlord, a limited partnership named after the building’s address, 956 Valencia St., reduced the increase to $13,500, but that was still too high. As a compromise, the owner kept the rent at $6,100 a month until Chen found a new spot.
That happened nearly a year later in July, when Chen, an immigrant from China, discovered the 2,220-square-foot storefront at 2221 Mission St near 18th Street. It’s less than three blocks from the Valencia spot and smaller, but the rent is lower — although Chen declined to say exactly how much he paid.
Back on Valencia, it’s still uncertain what will happen to Chen’s old space. The storefront has been vacant since he moved out, but in September the city issued the building owners a $49,000 permit to renovate the store’s interior, property records show.
The landlords purchased the building—956-966 Valencia—in July 2009 for $4 million, according to the San Francisco Realtors Association. Before that, the building sold in August, 2007 for $4.2 million.
In addition to the retail store, the building has a restaurant space, which currently houses Mission Creek Cafe on the ground floor. The top two floors are residential units.
As for Chen, he’s already becoming a Mission Street partisan.Although the Mission shop gets slightly less traffic than the Valencia store, “it’s better than we expected,” he said.
Moreover, in the last two years more tourists that locals visited his store on Valencia and they would buy small things instead of the larger pieces, he said.
On Mission Street Chen sells primarily to locals.
He compared Valencia Street to Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist street without a sense of community. That is not life, he said.
“On Mission you can go and buy a bunch of tomatoes,” Chen said with a laugh. “Over there, you can’t even find a tomato.”