Photo by Lola M. Chavez

With one venerable arts nonprofit already on the city’s official list of legacy businesses, three more are poised to get official recognition of their status at a commission meeting today, and some are hoping for some relief from market pressures threatening their longevity.

Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center was finally approved by the city’s Small Business Commission to receive the coveted Legacy Business status on August 10. Doc’s Clock, the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, and the Roxie Theater are slated for approval next. Dog Eared Books and Zeitgeist are also beginning the process.

The registry, aside from officially recognizing the businesses’ contribution to the neighborhood, makes those listed eligible to apply for funding from the city designated to keep businesses afloat in difficult times.

For the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, whose main location is at 16th and Shotwell streets and which was founded in 1967, securing a place on the list meant the city’s acknowledgement of what many long-term businesses already know: They are part of the fabric of the community.

“I think that the health center is very much a part of the Mission District. And that was our interest in wanting to be recognized,” said Brenda Storey, the Executive Director of the health center. “I think it joins the other efforts that are happening in the Mission around the displacement of our families and our cultural icons from this community.”

The Legacy Business Preservation Fund, approved by voters in November 2015, procured funding to give qualifying businesses grants of $500 per employee per employee per year and $4.50 per square foot of space rented per year. Both are aimed at helping to offset rent increases and other cost of doing business increases. It also offers financial incentives for landlords who agree to long lease renewals for legacy businesses.

That’s part of the appeal for the Roxie Theater. The nonprofit alternative cinema is quite literally an icon of legacy business – the city’s web page detailing the process of becoming a legacy business uses an image of the theater’s facade.

But the Roxie faces an uncertain future with the expiration of its lease in 2018. The Roxie’s director, David Cowen, hopes that the potential to offset some of a possible rent increase with grants from the city might give the theater a shot at staying in place.

“The main advantage to being on the registry will the be grants that our landlord can submit to get city funds to help alleviate the difference between the rent we pay and what market rents are,” Cowen said.

In the Roxie’s case, the rent subsidy grant tied to square footage could provide around $18,500 a year.

“Which isn’t a tremendous amount of money when it comes to San Francisco, but it is hopefully enough money to help us renegotiate that lease and to get a long term lease so we don’t need to be in such a precarious position,” Cowen said.

Doc’s Clock, too, hopes the city assistance will help see it through tough times – after 50 years of business.

“The legacy business stipends will help us cover the cost of  increasing rent in the Mission,” wrote owner Carey Suckow in an email. “Currently, San Francisco is caught up in such a fast pace of change that we are losing many places that we all treasure. Being on that registry gives us the chance to save our business and the chance to save our small part of San Francisco history.”

For the health center, getting grants wasn’t central to the decision to pursue official legacy status, though it could be helpful in keeping some of the centers’ programs in place at locations the center does not own. But the fund, Storey said, shows a willingness to support on the part of the city.

“From that, we can see kind of a long term commitment on the part of the icty to maintain these legacy businesses, and hopefully also maintain the community as a whole,” she said.

Qualifying businesses must first be nominated by the local supervisor. Then, businesses must submit an application – Storey and Cowen both called the application a reasonable one, though it requires paper evidence that the business has been around for more than 30 years (or 20 years if they are in immediate danger of displacement). After that, it’s a waiting game – Supervisor Scott Wiener nominated the Roxie on April 7.

“The process was pretty straightforward, but we submitted our application on April 22nd and really we hadn’t gone through any hearings or talked to anybody in great detail until just last week,” Cowen said.

Then, businesses need approval from two separate city commissions, the Small Business Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission.

Though the game-changer is likely to be the city funding, an exact process for disbursing those funds is not quite in place, said Gloria Chan, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. In the meantime, the city is hoping to give some support to businesses on the registry by providing some marketing assistance.

“We have to create a brand for the registry so it’s not an overnight marketing piece we want it to be well thought out and inclusive,” Chan said. “Businesses can take whatever promotional product is available and push that on their own.”

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  1. I love Zeitgeist, but that place has to make money hand over fist. Was this law to help struggling businesses or is it just to help businesses people think are cool? Did they have to show that they are not making a profit or only making a certain small profit? And if they showed no profit, they are either terrible business owners or hiding cash.

  2. BOB EVANS- like the segregated special rights tech companies got to move to mid market, saving for each employee in payroll tax relief? Doc’s Clock Dog Eared Books…. etc…… did not receive that corporate welfare, and we VALUE these businesses, they make San Francisco amazing, little envious you are……

    1. Yes, it would be so much nicer to have these businesses replaced by a Gap, a Walgreen’s or a McDonald’s. That would appeal to right-wing libertarians. Or, on the other hand, you could move to Concord and feel right at home.