The Lucky Candles shop at 3525 20th St. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

A mainstay of the Mission District for 27 years, the Lucky Candles botanica at 3525 20th St. will be moving or going out of business because the new building owners will be conducting a city-mandated seismic retrofit of the property.

Lucky Candle’s owner, Miriam Castillo, who has lived in the Mission for most of her life, said she has no idea where she would relocate to and cannot afford anything in the neighborhood.

“I can’t do it, I don’t have the money,” said the 78-year-old, who moved to the Mission after coming to the United States as a 16-year-old from El Salvador. She and her husband moved to Antioch six years ago but return daily to work in the store. 

Miriam Castillo inside her Lucky Candles shop on Thursday, October 27, 2016. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Castillo was previously told she would have to be out by October 31, but the building’s new landlords have given her until the end of the year to find a new place. Castillo will also not be required to pay any rent before she leaves, a representative for the landlord wrote in an email.

“Today we informed [the business owners] that, to help give them more time for finding a new space, we are delaying the lease term to December 31, and we have also decided to forgive the lease payment so that they will not be paying rent on the final two months,” wrote Ron Heckmann, a spokesperson for Veritas, a real estate management firm with dozens of properties in San Francisco.

Castillo has owned Lucky Candles — a Santería shop at 20th and Mission streets filled with as many prayer candles as sex enhancement pills — for almost three decades. She and her husband Jorge Polanco conduct psychic readings and give spiritual advice out of the small space.

The shop next door, which has no sign, will also be displaced, Castillo said. Its owners did not return a request for comment.

Customers come to Lucky Candles far off for tarot card readings and other spiritual services and the couple say they know hundreds of people in the neighborhood.

“When I walk through the Mission, everyone says hi to me,” said her husband, Polanco.

Wares at the Lucky Candles store. Photo by Lola M. Chavez
Photo by Lola M. Chavez

For city-mandated seismic retrofits to proceed, Castillo’s new landlords say she must leave. The renovations, part of a 2013 law that applies to some 5,000 wood-frame buildings city-wide, including some 550 in the Mission District, usually require shoring up buildings with weak ground floors to prevent their collapse during an earthquake.

Despite the retrofit, Castillo could be evicted at any time because she has a month-to-month lease. Under her previous landlord, she had a verbal agreement that she could keep her shop at her low rent of $650 a month while he was alive.

But the landlord died in 2013, passing on the building to his children, who sold it to a limited liability company named for the address of the building — 305 San Carlos Street LLC. The firm’s owners are not known.

“He told me I’d be here until he died,” Castillo said. “But then he died and his children thought differently.”

The property management firm responsible for the building, known as Greentree Property Management, a subsidiary of Veritas, sent a letter to Castillo saying that her shop would have to be closed because the retrofit would take six to nine months.

Those involved in seismic retrofits throughout San Francisco say they generally take no more than a couple of weeks, but Heckmann, the representative for Veritas, said the few weeks guess was not specific to the “current and long-term understanding of the building” and that because the building is old, the construction time could be unpredictable.

Moreover, Heckmann said, the new owners have planned “further improvements” to the building “within the next year” and the seismic retrofit would have to occur before those can take place. The building owners submitted permits in July, which have not yet been approved.

Regardless, Castillo seems to have little legal recourse because of her month-to-month lease, which can be terminated at will by her landlord.

Castillo said the sales from her shop help her, her husband, and their 30-year-old daughter pay their mortgage in Antioch.

“I keep searching for a place to move, because I live off my business,” she said. “[But] I’m leaving from here, because everything in the Mission is too expensive.”

Photo by Lola M. Chavez
Photo by Lola M. Chavez
Photo by Lola M. Chavez

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  1. Ultimately, we have to find a way for people to own their homes and their business properties, if we are to stop displacement. Property ownership gives us the best protection against eviction and displacement. The San Francisco Community Land Trust model can really inform us in finding a solution that works to protect and preserve existing affordable housing stock and legacy businesses. Maybe these owners should reach out to Calle 24th for help too.

    1. Tenant was there three decades, long enough to put together enough money to own whatever. She was paying 650 a month way under what the rent was worth. She had 30 years of a good thing.

    2. Why? Businesses like this should have to be able to survive in modern times at modern expenses. If they can’t, the next generation deserves their shot at opening up new businesses too!!!

      Oh and she exported her profits to Antioch. This is another sob story meant to make younger people feel guilty when indeed they are the ones getting screwed (I’m not even one of them).

  2. This is a sad story but she should also feel lucky that she has been able to run a business for decades at a subsidized rent of only $650 per month and at that rent should be able to save quite a bit of money over those decades.

    Also she says:

    He told me I’d be here until he died,” Castillo said. “But then he died and his children thought differently.”

    It sounds like the children didn’t change anything – the landlord said she could stay until he died. He did die… in 2013 in fact and she’s still there in 2016. Clearly this is not an unforeseen event that could have been planned for years — if not decades ago.

    Looks like the current owner of the building may live in Danville, but really… it sounds like they’ve been more than fair.

  3. @Mission local. : Can you confirm with the Department of Building Inspection that this building is required to have a retrofit? According to their website, this property is not listed. Possibly a lie by the LLC to force an eviction while trying not to look evil?

  4. When I lived in my rent controlled building whose rent never went up for 5 years, I was scared when a note went out to the tenants that checks were to start going to an LLC. The banked rent immediately went into effect, the mold problem went left unchecked, security cameras were installed everywhere, and eviction threats began over the course of the next 2 years. I respect all of my friends who put their sanity, health, and lives at risk sticking it to landlords. After a year and a half, I couldn’t take it anymore.

    1. And in the same spirt you show, I support all landlords who stick it to tenants. They are just practicing what all fake labeled “progressives” love to engage in…. CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE