File Photo: The Royal Cuckoo Market on 19th Street

Disclosure: Mission Local rents office space from the Mission Economic Development Agency. Both the Royal Cuckoo Market and MEDA are paying supporters of Mission Local.

The Royal Cuckoo Market on 19th Street near Capp Street now has approval from the Planning Commission to establish a restaurant serving soups and sandwiches, a permit necessary to keep the tiny bar within the market space. The Commission made its decision unanimously, with many citing the difficulty of operating a retail business in today’s market and the need to branch out into serving food and drink, or hosting events. 

Musicians, in particular, came to show their support of the owners. Chris Siebert, a local musician, said owners Debbie Horn and Paul Miller have long been great supporters of and provided a venue for local musicians at their other location, a full bar on Mission and Valencia streets.

“To me, Paul and Deb are local heroes,” he said. “They own a mom-and-pop family business, not a chain. The market is a friendly neighborhood establishment, they serve local folks and employ only local people, most of whom are Mission residents, most of whom are bilingual.”

Though the Royal Cuckoo Market has been serving beer, wine and small bites at their location at 3368 19th St. since November 2016, after its original permit to serve alcohol was approved, that plan met an obstacle when an anonymous neighbor made a complaint alleging that the bar was illegal. That, in turn, triggered a review by the Planning Department, and opposition from a nonprofit organization across the street.

The Planning Commission enacted interim controls in 2016, which require an additional hearing and neighborhood outreach meetings to approve any new restaurant, a definition the market fits because of the type of alcohol license it holds and because of its modest food service.

At the outreach meeting, neighbors packed the market. Some expressed dismay at the addition of a new alcohol-selling establishment, especially a restaurant, on the block.

At the time of the first meeting, the Mission Economic Development Agency’s Gabriel Medina and the Cultural Action Network’s Peter Papadopulos both raised concerns about ongoing trends in the neighborhood toward “destination” eateries and bars — rather than affordable, neighborhood-serving establishments. They also pointed to ongoing losses of retail space to restaurant conversions, and the fact that restaurant spaces spur higher commercial rents — an issue frequently raised by the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association and other merchant groups.

No opponents to the market’s proposed business appeared before the Commission on Thursday, however. 

Among the supporters was Ani Rivera, executive director of Galería de la Raza on 24th Street and a member of the Mission Bernal Merchants Association.

“It is important to think about how we think about the development of our city, but it’s really crucial that we do not target people who are doing good work,” Rivera told the Commission.

Plenty of people did emphasize the increasing difficulty of operating a retail business in a changing economic environment where retailers compete, almost in vain, against delivery giants like Amazon.

“I think that in that respect, it’s very important for a precedent, because if we’re going to keep the retail spaces vibrant in the Mission, we have to allow creativity to come forward,” said Chris Collins, treasurer of the Mission Merchants Association. “It’s a very challenging time for retail.”

It’s  familiar problem to the commissioners, too, who have supported retailers that try out new models to get by.

“I think that having these hybrid business models that make use of small, older spaces in our commercial corridors is exactly the kind of thing that we want to be encouraging,” said Commissioner Myrna Melgar.

“To be a sole proprietor with a family-owned business, you need to have multiple revenue streams,” Commissioner Christine Johnson said. “The idea of a small mom-and-pop that just sells small trinkets or groceries — it’s not viable anymore.”

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  1. What pray tell is a “neighborhood serving establishment”? Wouldn’t that include all retail spaces in the neighborhood?