A look inside Sweetheart Bakery at 2956 24th St. Photo by Laura Waxmann

One might think that Asian business owners along 24th Street watching the efforts to preserve its Latino culture might feel left out.

They don’t. Instead, the effort to protect existing Latino businesses has overwhelming support among the street’s Chinese merchants. Moreover, many said they feel secure there because they, like some of the Latino businesses, own the buildings where their businesses are located.

“[This legislation] proves the government cares about our business which is good for us,” said Zhuang Liang Liang, owner of Teresita Nail Spa. “This is a very busy street, but the consumption is quite low, and the rent is not cheap either, so it’s not easy to do business here.”

Zhuang has rented the space at 3194 24th St. that houses her nail salon and spa for some three years, and said that little competition from other Chinese businesses initially drew her to the predominantly Latino corridor.

“Preserving the [existing] culture will bring us more customers – It will be very good for our business and for the street,” she said, explaining that she hopes the corridor’s independently-owned shops and unique character will invite tourism from beyond the Mission.

In an effort to curb 24th Street’s transformation from a Latino cultural hub to a promenade of upscale restaurants and bars, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen proposed legislation that would impose zoning regulations on new businesses vying for a space on the coveted corridor.

Restaurateurs in particular would face additional hurdles as the new legislation requires city approval for restaurants and bars hoping to open within a 300-foot diameter in areas already consisting of 35 percent of such establishments.

While many of her neighbors have faced rent increases, Zhuang said she feels secure in her lease and hopes that the cultural district and proposed commercial use restrictions will maintain the status quo but also spark the interest of  “more Americans,” because they will bring “more profits to our business. “

“I do not worry about if there will be rising prices cause the price here is always high. I’ve been used to that,” she said.

The owner of Sweetheart Bakery at 2956 24th St., who gave her name as Xu, added:

“I know it will make it difficult for people outside of the district to come here and do business, but I don’t think it will affect us.”

Xu’s family came to the Mission in 1985 and has been running the family business ever since. She owns the building and said that their customers are largely Latino so she has a vested interest in keeping her regular customers in the neighborhood.

“Mexicans are much better than Chinese – Chinese are just so picky. They want good quality, large portion, and want the food to be looking good,” said Xu. “Mexicans are different, they are easy to please. As long as things are cheap, they don’t care too much about all that.”

Still, Xu said that many of the changes she’s witnessed over the decades have been positive and attributes them to an influx of wealth, upscale businesses and their customers, in her community.

“This place was a drug center in the past, now it’s much better,” she said. “The security is better and there are many more tourists.”

Chinese-owned businesses are the minority on the street distinguished by the city as the 24th Street Latino Cultural District – representing just some seven out of 150 storefronts. But unlike many they have weathered the gentrifying corridor’s skyrocketing rents and changing demographics that have displaced many longtime residents and threatened Latino businesses in recent years as the corridor has become increasingly desirable.

The legislation would protect existing businesses by restricting the merging of 24th Street’s storefronts of spaces that total more than a combined 799 square feet. In recent years, some some local businesses came under threat of displacement – such as a bookstore and neighboring indigenous arts shop that were nearly evicted when investors offered up $100,000 to replace those tenants with a high-end restaurant.

Ownership has helped.  

Despite the corridor’s rampant changes, its small community of Chinese merchants reports that for them, it’s been mostly businesses as usual.

“We own the building, we don’t need to pay rent,” said Yu Bixian, who works at Ming’s Fong Lam Restaurant at 2878 24th St. Latinos also make up much of the restaurant’s clientele, and Yu worries that gentrification will displace many of her loyal customers. “Now the rent here is so high, if they move out of here, they won’t be able to come back.”

Others said that while they support protecting small businesses, they also welcome new establishments and a healthy dose of competition on the corridor.  

“If you feel like you can go into a neighborhood and compete, offer a product at a reasonable price and compete, I don’t see what the problem is,” said Rick Rodriguez, who alongside his wife runs Punjab Restaurant at 2838 24th St.

Rodriguez said his wife’s family has owned the Chinese restaurant for some 45 years and also owns their building. He attributed their longevity in the neighborhood to ownership. The new legislation, he said, could save long-term businesses who are not so fortunate.

“I think there should be something to assist them, especially long term families who‘ve had businesses here…Casa Sanchez and a few others, who have been here forever,” he said.

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