In the Window at Laku.

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. 

Cleared for retrofitting, Schauplatz will not reopen. Photo by Lydia Chávez

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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10 Comments

  1. So the politically connected business got the federal assistance while those not so connected are having to fend for themselves.

    We’re about to see equilibrium punctuate on this kind of self-dealing crass corruption.

    In other news, third wave gentrifiers are now at risk of closure due to COVID19.

  2. Waking up on a Saturday morning to read that Laku is closing it’s gate for good is heartbreaking. I’m going back to bed.
    Congratulations Yaeko for a creative life well lived.

  3. Waking up on a Saturday morning to read that Laku is closing it’s gate for good is heartbreaking. I’m going back to bed.
    Congratulations Yaeko for a creative life well lived.

    1. Good reporting + this is so depressing. We must to be allowed to get back to work on Valencia Street sooner than later. Does Mayor London Breed understand our desperation as small businesses? I wonder. Empower us please!

  4. Schauplatz was the best vintage store ever and this is a big loss for the neighborhood! Laku too was a little local treasure. Very sad reading this.

  5. Hello everybody – this is Alan From Schauplatz. I was hoping the writer would publish some of our goodbye letter, but I will do it here…

    A Message to the Friends of Schauplatz Vintage

    We are sad to announce that we have decided not to reopen the doors of our store. The uncertainty of these times make the future too precarious, and we have been fortunate enough to find someone to take over the commitments of our lease.
    There are no words to express how grateful we are for these years in the neighborhood. When we opened our doors 22 years ago, we thought it would be a little side gig. We had no idea we could make a living or build the kind of family around us that we ultimately have. It has been such a gift for us to be able to pour our hearts and energies into this space and to be met with so much love.
    And now It feels like a good time to move on. Each of us is taking steps toward other forms of work, while also continuing our store online. Toward that end, we have opened an Etsy shop. We are filling it slowly with special pieces, many of which we have reserved for years. Please visit us when you can at https://Etsy.me/3bGciGP. The name of the shop is SchauplatzVintageusa.
    We probably will be having some kind of clearance sale event in the future somewhere nearby. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to know when that will be. If you would like to be kept informed of any developments, feel free to visit/follow our Facebook page – Schauplatz Vintage – or our Instagram at schauplatz_vintage. We are a little old school and have been slow on the social media scene, but we are gradually getting up to speed. You can also email me at alanf999@gmail.com to get on a mailing list I am compiling.

    Also, Alan is looking for a job! If you have any leads for a strong communicator/writer with customer service savvy, visual merchandising skills, and 20+ years of business management experience, please contact him at the same email address above.
    Again, thank you for 22 great years. Stay safe and love your neighbors.
    Sincerely,
    Alan and Bernhard

  6. Doubling the rent in the pandemic, post-pandemic settings is insanely stupid.

    Hope our recently voted provision to tax landlords for maintaining empty storefronts is still in effect and being enforced.

  7. I manage the Laku retail space and at no time whatsoever ,either in the past or currently was Laku given verbal or written notice that her rent would be doubled. In fact her base rent has remained the same for the past six years. Missing is how the Landlord has effectively kept Laku ‘on life support” all these 20 plus years by sheer charity. I have emailed back and forth with Mission Local and they still get it wrong. At best they halfway amended her claimed current rent (previously cited as $3K/mo.) which is still an inaccurate base rent amount. Mission Local around 2014 in an article claimed that her (Laku) rent was $3500/month and gushed that this was “cheap” for Valencia St. (so now Laku supposedly pays $2908.40?)

    I asked for an apology from Mission Local for writing inaccurate and false information.

    Ken M. had commented on June 1,2020, “Doubling the rent in the pandemic, post-pandemic settings is insanely stupid.”
    That is why Mission Local has effectively maligned my reputation by their careless write ups. It is too easy to malign people on electronic platforms and disseminate it via other conduits. Poor stewardship and reporting by Mission Local.

    1. Dem: You are correct, the rent was not $3000 a month, but $2908.40. We also see from your letter (dated April 29) that you mentioned wanting to increase the rent to $3700 when her renewal came in June 2016. This is the only document we have and we will go by it. You did not raise the rent to $3700 in 2016. However, both the owner and her friend who has been negotiating with you say that you did want to double the rent this time around but agreed to wait until the fall. They said they have documents attesting to that but have not sent them over as they have been advised by their lawyer not to do so. We have changed doubling the rent to increasing the rent since we do not have a document demonstrating a request to doubling the rent. As we note in the story, the owner was ready to retire.

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