The COVID-19 pandemic may now count Valencia Street’s quirkiness among its victims. After 22 years, Schauplatz Vintage will not reopen, and after 20 years Laku, a boutique where every item seems to be a handmade art piece, will close its doors permanently sometime later this summer.
Yes, their stories are more complicated than the virus – Laku’s owner, for example, was ready to retire, and a rent increase made that decision easier – but the virus did not help.
Twelve other stores along the commercial corridor known for its independent businesses are close to the edge of calling it quits and will be forced to do so unless they receive some government assistance, according to a survey by the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association (VCMA) in mid-May in which 89 businesses participated.
All – from businesses that have been on the street one year to one on the street for 62 years – are worried about surviving the pandemic.
“Opening in a limited capacity is just not financially feasible,” for many of the business owners, said Sean Quigley, the founder of Paxton Gate and the vice president of the merchants association. He too wonders what will happen to Paxton Gate, which is barely breaking even, he wrote in an email.
“If we move into what they’re calling Phase 2B where we’re allowed to open but with restrictions of some sort, I can’t see how I’d make it work,” he added.
Out of the 89 businesses that responded, not quite half are completely closed for now, while around 21 percent are operating with some sort of takeout or delivery option. The association did not name the stores close to shuttering for good.
Moreover, more than half have not received any type of assistance, despite about 85 percent reporting that they applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as smaller percentages that applied for other funding and aid.
“A lot of aid does not trickle down to the Mission,” said Manny Yekutiel, the owner of Manny’s on Valencia Street and one of the directors on the VCMA board who was lucky enough to get funds from the federal program. “If things are not done to save our small businesses now, it will result in permanent closures of many of them.”
Already their employees are reeling from the crisis. Some 1,184 employees who worked on Valencia have been furloughed or laid off, an average of 13 employees per business.
“That’s a lot of people that don’t have work, just from one corridor,” said Yekutiel, “And if you think about that multiplied all over the city, it’s just a sobering sense of how many people don’t have jobs right now.”
Freedman from Schauplatz Vintage was already growing tired of running his store when the pandemic began to close San Francisco down. Luckily for him, COVID-19 coincided with a seismic retrofitting on their shop’s building. Freedman and his partner Bernhard Wetsch had to move the bulk of their inventory out, but they weren’t being charged rent.
So, in the short term, COVID-19 did not have a big impact. But when Freedman considered shutting down completely, he ran up against a landlord who would not let him out of the last three years on his lease.
In the end, however, the owner of the Middle Eastern restaurant, Yasmin, which is on the corner, has agreed to take it on and the paperwork most likely will be ready to sign by next week.
“It’s not without misgivings, but I do think it’s the best choice for us,” said Freedman. He isn’t sure what’s next for him, but in the meantime, “I’m doing the online thing.” He’s set up a shop on Etsy.
Yaeko Yamashita, the owner of Laku, was already considering closing her store back in January, long before the pandemic struck.
“Wow, maybe I knew it,” she said with a laugh about her premonition, as she opened up her shop for its now reduced operating hours of 3 to 6 p.m.
Initially, Yamashita stayed closed and at home during shelter-in-place. But, starting April 22, she pivoted to sell handmade face masks using pretty, expensive fabric. With sales of those, often from repeat customers, she’s been able to make her monthly rent payments of $$2908.40.
But when her landlord decided to raise her rent in the fall, she took it as an opportunity to let her shop go and retire.
“I think I’m just tired of all of this,” said Yamashita, who is 67 and has been making her designs for more than 30 years now.
But her life at the store — where she installed a piano and where her dog often sleeps in a chair nearby — has been a good one. “I love Valencia Street very much,” she said. “It’s very special here.”
Here is a link to a video we did of Laku in 2014.
This article has been corrected. It first reported that Yamashita’s rent at Laku was $3000 a month. It is $2908.40 a month. And the landlord did not double the rent, but to increase it.
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