Merchants balk at restaurant addition to retail (updated)

Amado's at 21st and Valencia Street. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Update:

Planning Commissioners approved the addition of a restaurant into the existing events venue and retail space called Amado’s, formerly Viracocha, on 20th and Valencia streets. The commissioners voted unanimously, 5-0, to allow Amado’s to add a restaurant at the back of its street-level commercial space, but also required that it increase the amount of space reserved for retail in the front of the space.

The increase was devised as a compromise that would allow the owner of Amado’s, David Quinby, to keep the events venue alive by selling alcohol and food, while also accommodating the requests of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association to preserve retail. Merchants have long opposed conversions from retail to restaurant, arguing that these conversions are rarely reversed and draw foot traffic away from daytime hours and thereby the shop owners who need it most. Special approvals are required for such conversions, and some of the commissioners seemed sympathetic to the concern over retail space.

“I used to go to North Beach when I first moved here, it was vibrant, there were a lot of things to go by and see. Recently…the place is a ghost town. There’s nothing to buy, it’s just restaurants,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards. “I get where the folks from the VCMA are coming from…The amount of square footage devoted to retail just doesn’t reach the bar for me.”

Phil Lesser, the president of the Mission Merchants Association, several commissioners, and Quinby’s landlord all spoke highly of the project, praising Quinby’s management of the space and one of his other businesses, the Riptide.

“I think this is a magical location, the wood in the room, you smell it you feel it, it’s magical,” said Commissioner Rodney Fong. “It’s a pretty good shot at saving the magic that is there.”

The dissent to the proposal revolved around a promise of 600 square feet of retail being preserved on the ground floor. Merchants from the VCMA and a few other speakers said community outreach had indicated that the restaurant would be in the basement only, or much less dominant. They also described the promise of 600 square feet as disingenuous, saying it included areas that shouldn’t be counted. Part of the allocated space was also on an upstairs mezzanine level.

“This token amount of retail was put in there just to appease us,” said Ritual Coffee owner and VCMA member Eileen Rinaldi. “I love entertainment venues and came to multiple hearings to support Viracocha. Losing a cornerstone of retail on Valencia is a high price to pay to keep the entertainment venue.”

Commissioners at first discussed minor adjustments that would make the retail more prominent but ultimately just stipulated that the retail area be increased to 700 square feet and that all of it be at the front of the building.

Original Story:

Retailers in the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association have rescinded their support of Amado’s pursuit of a full service restaurant – a request that will be heard by the Planning Commission sometime this afternoon.

The association supported the idea of a restaurant as long as the owner retained 600 square feet of retail, out of almost 2,000 square feet total, on the ground floor. The group has now rescinded its support, saying less retail space is actually in the plans than was expected.

David Quinby and Al Ribiya took over the former Viracocha space 998 Valencia St. in 2016 and operated a store for hand-tailored clothing on the ground floor and an entertainment space in the basement. But by February of this year, the clothing shop had closed and a pop up selling records moved in.  

Sean Quigley, president of the Valencia Corridor Merchant’s Association and owner of Paxton Gate at 766 Valencia St. said when the change to a restaurant was originally proposed that he expected no opposition from the merchants as long as 600 square feet of front retail was retained. In a letter to planners, Quigley wrote that he supported the permit so long as the alcohol license applied only to the basement and the street level would remain retail.

For his part, Quinby said he asked the merchants in January to take back their letter of support with its stipulations, saying it was misleading and causing confusion.

“I’m glad he is finally rescinding the letter because nothing but confusion has come from it,” he wrote.

The application plans for 400 square feet of retail on the ground floor with an additional 180 square feet of ancillary office space, which Quinby describes as being used for retail purposes, on an elevated mezzanine area. Though drinks would be served in the basement, the restaurant would operate on the street level.

The association, which is usually averse to the addition of new restaurants on the corridor and even once championed a restaurant moratorium for the area, originally supported Quinby’s idea because the plans retained retail in the front of the space.

“We understand they need a kitchen to support the downstairs venue and to get a liquor license,” said Ritual Coffee owner and merchant association member Eileen Rinaldi. “We wrote the letter of support with the understanding that the ground floor was going to be substantially retail. Now that we’re seeing that there’s really no substantial retail we feel like we have to revoke our support of the project.”

Aversion to converting retail to restaurant comes from a concern that restaurants take foot traffic away from existing retail store and make the spaces they occupy more expensive. To make such a change, a venue needs a  conditional use permit from the Planning Commission.

“It’s extremely rare for a space that’s been converted into a restaurant to be converted back into retail.It’s expensive to convert a space to restaurant,” Rinaldi explained. “The concern is that this is becoming more and more of a destination for nights and weekend nights, and we’re seeing a drop in foot traffic during the day. That has a lot of the merchants who rely on shopping traffic very concerned.”

As part of the changes, the basement entertainment space will add a bar, according to planning documents. The retail areas will also be flexible and can be rearranged or removed for events.

City planner Linda Ajello Hoagland said earlier that the plans envision a flow between the retail and cash register in the front of the corner store, a restaurant and a then a kitchen in the back. The proposed restaurant would be open from Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. and the basement entertainment venue would be open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“Lance Walden, the brilliant record store owner who is currently doing the pop up at Amado’s, uses the space to store very rare items to show privately to interested buyers. Once again, retail,” Quinby wrote. “We have struck the perfect balance for all 3 levels and we got the retail square footage precisely where mr Quigly wanted it.”

Rinaldi, however, said she sees it differently.

“We wrote the letter [of support] thinking that the liquor license applied to bar downstairs and that the ground floor would remain retail, and the kitchen to support liquor license in the back of the ground floor, but front would remain retail,” she said. “But now the reality of the ground floor is a restaurant which is a pretty big change for us. The fact is too, a lot of restaurants say they’re going to be open for lunch but then they realize that dinner is the profitable time to be open and …change their hours.”

Rinaldi said the merchants had been led her to believe that the retail portion of the store would be more dominant, but discovered in the documents submitted to the Planning Department that the retail portion was smaller and less prominent than expected.

Some ten letters from neighborhood groups, former supervisor Scott Wiener, and other groups urged the Planning Commission to approve the permit, along with hundreds of signatures and letters from neighbors. It appears that the main opposition comes from the merchant’s association.

In May 2013, the Board of Supervisors rejected the merchants’ idea for a restaurant conversion moratorium, instead adding another step in the approval process for those conversions.

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