August 2010

Library Reopening Prompts Increase in Business on 20th Street Corridor

By Sarah Mcdonald

The 20th Street commercial strip has experienced an increase in traffic since the San Francisco Public Library’s Potrero Hill branch re-opened last March. Businesses located on the street had suffered a sales decline as a result of several factors, including the loss of a popular deli in 2006, the closure of the library for renovations in 2008, street repairs that disrupted parking last summer, and the Great Recession.

The newly renovated library is drawing a larger crowd than before its closure, or at least a more active one. According to Michelle Jeffers, the library’s public relations officer, circulation has roughly tripled from 2008, with almost 18,500 items being borrowed monthly during the summer.

“It’s very good that the library is back open,” said Lester Zeidman, co-owner of The Good Life Grocery. According to Zeidman, although business isn’t as good as it once was, he’s seen a modest sales increase since March. Sal Saleh, owner of Dave’s Food Store, and Kal Ghanma, at All States Best Food, agreed that the library’s re-opening has prompted more customer traffic, although Saleh believes parking congestion has become a bigger problem.  Ghanma said some of his formally regular customers have returned. “The only reason they come to the neighborhood is because of the library,” he said.

Keith Goldstein, Potrero Hill Association of Merchants and Businesses (PHAMB) president, said he was happy to see the library back in business. “From what I’ve heard there’s more foot traffic, more life on the street,” he said. Michele Hangee-Bauer at San Francisco Natural Medicine said her business doesn’t depend on drop-ins, but she’s also noticed more pedestrian traffic.

Still, the street’s businesses continue to suffer due to the bad economy. Ling Chu of Billy’s Dry Cleaners said business is slow. “[It’s] just because of people not working,” she said. Thuy Jimerson, a receptionist at La Fleur, a salon at 20th and Arkansas, said business was good, but she hadn’t noticed any change since the library re-opened, though she had seen more people with strollers next to the library.

Most businesses along the corridor complained of a loss of customers after Klein’s Deli left the corner of Connecticut and 20th streets. The restaurant was briefly replaced by Jay’s Deli, which closed last year. The storefront has remained vacant since, which has troubled many community leaders. “If you own that have a responsibility to the neighborhood,” said Frank Gilson, a PHAMB executive board member.

Masoud Mostofi, who owns Chatz Roasting Company, a café on 18th Street, plans to open a sandwich shop at the former Klein’s location this fall.  According to Mostofi, the eatery will serve coffee and breakfast in the morning, and hot and cold sandwiches and soup in the afternoon. He plans to open in mid-September, after repairs on the storefront are completed. He called the new location an exciting place, and said he was happy to be opening another business in Potrero Hill. “It’s a really good neighborhood,” he said.

Most 20th Street merchants agreed that they’d like to see another deli or cafe in the space.  “I’d like to see anything that helps make 20th Street a viable commercial district,” said Zeidman.

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