“There won’t be any more Taco Tuesdays,” said Aram Sohigian walking across the street from the burnt-out block of buildings at 29th and Mission streets.
A long-time customer of Taco Loco, one of seven businesses damaged by a massive fire last weekend, Sohigian dreaded the prospect of “high-end condos” replacing once popular shops and restaurants.
“You had Taco Tuesdays for a buck fifty,” he said, describing the block as a relative holdout in the increasingly expensive Mission District, where even Mexican restaurants are upping their prices. “You go a few blocks that way and you have tacos for $8 and margaritas for $15.”
“We’ve been here to see mariachis many times,” said Alberto Zarrate, a worker at Jim’s Restaurant at 20th and Mission who said he used to go to the taqueria Playa Azul as often as once a week.
The restaurant was in one of two buildings that were so badly damaged by Saturday’s five-alarm blaze that they are scheduled for demolition. The other housed Cole Hardware, a go-to for home supplies for Mission and Bernal residents.
On Monday, Zarrate and a friend stood across Mission Street from the burn-out and boarded-up buildings and stared at Playa Azul’s parrot and palm tree sign, remembering “a lot of mariachi, a lot of tequila, and a lot of food.”
“But no more,” he said. “No more Playa Azul, no more mariachis.”
The fire that tore through six buildings on the corner of 29th and Mission streets spread in minutes but took hours to extinguish. It was the most impactful in the Mission District since the now-infamous fire at 22nd and Mission streets in January 2015, which displaced a similar number of residents and more businesses.
The 3300 Club, Taco Loco, Playa Azul, Cole Hardware, El Paisa, and the Bernal Heights Cooperative suffered the most. Only the two buildings housing Cole Hardware and Playa Azul will have to be demolished, however. The rest can be refurbished.
Dozens of units that housed 58 now-displaced residents — many of them tenants of the single-room occupancy hotel on the corner — were also destroyed.
Though city officials say almost all of the residents will be able to return to their buildings once repaired, reconstruction could take years and the city is scrambling to find them permanent housing.
As for the businesses, they must rely on insurance money and the city to tide them over.
Representatives from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development met with business owners on Monday to inform owners of city aid, including $10,000 grants through the Small Business Disaster Relief Fund, which was created after the fire at 22nd and Mission streets last year.
The grants are meant to “bridge the gap” for businesses before they can access more financing from their insurance, the federal government, or other programs, said Gloria Chan, a spokesperson with the Office of Economic Workforce Development.
Businesses must apply through the Mission Economic Development Agency — which is also coordinating fundraising efforts for the displaced tenants. Some business owners said they would avail themselves of the funds.
“That would be amazing,” said Theresa Keane, the manager of the 3300 Club, which is owned by her family. Her insurance company is likely to be slow in disbursing funds, Keane said, and any money they can get from the city will help pay some immediate costs.
“When you’re a cash business like we are and your cash flow stops suddenly, it doesn’t mean your bills stop,” she said.
Keane entered the building on Wednesday along with tenants from the Graywood Hotel upstairs and said the bar itself was left largely unburnt but suffered heavy water damage from firefighting efforts.
“It was a little surreal going in there, because it looks like somebody just hadn’t cleaned up after last shift,” she said. “Lots of soggy napkins.”
Keane said the 3300 Club will reopen, and that all former employees — she has three full-timers and other bartenders working one or two shifts a week — would be invited back. But that could be in eight to 12 months, she’s heard.
Rich Karp, the owner of Cole Hardware, which was the source of the fire, said that he would only use funds that were not taking away from those available to other affected businesses.
“I have the benefit of having four other stores,” he said. “We’re still operating, so for those that are out of business, I really want the city to take care of them before they take care of me.”
All of his employees have been absorbed by the other stores, though that has meant Karp’s “running a four store business with a five store payroll,” something he guessed he could continue into 2017.
He was actively looking for new storefronts in the Mission-Bernal area, but was having trouble finding something with the space. He said he probably needed 5–6,000 square feet.
“If that doesn’t happen, we will try to open somewhere else in the city and come back to Bernal when the building is rebuilt,” he said, estimating that could take between two to three years.
The Bernal Heights Cooperative, a cannabis dispensary on 29th Street, already had plans to move into the site of San Francisco’s last gun shop just down the street after it was kicked out by a new landlord. It will keep the name of the old gun shop, High Bridge, though its owner could not be reached for comment on when the new space would be open.
The owners of Playa Azul said they would plan on reopening in the same location but that reconstruction could take one to two years. They did not yet know whether they would find another location in the interim. Taco Loco could not be reached for comment on their plans after the fire, and El Paisa had contractors on the scene beginning repairs.
Princess V., who declined to give her full last name and works as a waitress at the Front Porch on 29th Street, said the business community was tight-knit and went further than just exchanging commerce.
“If we run out of paper or Purell, we can run up the street and get more,” she said of the 3300 Club. “When we have parties, they’re the first ones to rock out.”
And Jocelyn Granados, a friend of the owner of Seventy8 Cafe on 29th Street, said employees at Taco Loco often came in for coffee and cake. She, in turn, would go to Taco Loco “like everyday for lunch.”
“All businesses on this corner are the same,” said Rafael Garcia, another friend of the owner of Seventy8 Cafe. “You can see the same people at the same time everyday.”
Local resident J.K. Dineen, a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and author of a book on San Francisco bars, said he would often go to the 3300 Club and schmooze with its bartenders. As the Mission District and Bernal Heights have become food havens, the bar turned into a meeting place for workers after their shifts, he said.
“The 3300 Club has really become an industry gathering place for cooks and bartenders and waiters and waitresses,” he said, adding that the corner was “a different kind of community than maybe what Valencia Street has become — rents are cheaper a little bit, and people are more rooted in that part of the Mission.”