The Castro Streetscape Improvement Project has brought many improvements to the Castro: wider sidewalks, a bit of gay and Castro neighborhood history with the sidewalk plaques, and better street lighting, to name a few.
Another thing it has brought are hard times for some Castro-area businesses. During the construction of the sidewalks many say they saw declining sales and have struggled to stay open. Even now that construction has mostly wrapped up, they are still trying to recover.
Take, for example, the situation facing Whatever Store at 548 Castro Street. It's the neighborhood's comic book store, featuring mainstream, offbeat, and queer-focused comics and comic memorabilia. It has been holding a "trying not to go out of business" three-day sale this weekend starting on Friday and extending through today. Many items are discounted 50%. The store posted on its Facebook Page about the sale saying that, "If you love Whatever.. and want it to stay on the Castro, please come in this weekend."
"We hate that we have to make our problems public but sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just do it. The worst thing is that those who wanted us to fail will be celebrating and that stings," the post said.
Co-owner Rich Boutell told Hoodline that he had seen a significant decrease in foot traffic during the eight months of construction during the Castro Street project. He mentioned that customers used to come from all over the Bay Area and that during construction customers could no longer find parking and would just stop coming. Boutell noted that the summer was tourist season for the Castro and that he thought the project was just a mess for this. He said he felt cheated by the constantly changing completion date for the project.
That date for construction was pushed back twice with a brief reprieve during San Francisco Pride and Pink Saturday festivities in the Castro. "We were hit hard by the decrease in foot traffic," said Boutell. "Even with the project being done," Boutell said, "it's not like waving a magic wand and everything is back to normal."
The problem isn't so much that there was construction – which will no doubt provide long-term benefits – it's how the construction was planned and carried out.
Some other local businesses have been struggling and are still nervous about whether or not they will be able to make it. During this past week's monthly Castro Merchants meeting many business owners expressed their displeasure to District Supervisor Scott Wiener with the city's lack of support. Business owners said they have mentioned to Wiener many times that the capital improvement projects were taking a toll on their business. One, operating near 18th and Dolores, also expressed the struggle to stay in business as Dolores Park's north side undergoes construction.
Wiener responded to attendees by saying that the projects were voted on and approved by the public – but that the projects should not have been happening simultaneously. The Dolores Park project itself was delayed manytimes causing the overlap with the Castro Street project. Business owners said they wanted more from City Hall than an apology. Some members suggested, perhaps a reduction in some of the taxes they had to pay to the city. Wiener suggested that the members work with a local small business council to form a coalition to lobby City Hall.
Castro resident and illustrator Nick Acosta, who initially alerted us to the store sale, is a big fan of Whatever Store, "One of the highlights of my week is going early each Wednesday to get new comic books. The shop owners couldn't be nicer or friendlier. They know your name, what comic lines you're following and always have suggestions and great knowledge," he told us.
Whatever the solution to small business owners woes, consider heading over to the Whatever Store to help the business out. The sale continues today, but shop owners won't complain if you make a point to come in next week.