After 25 years in business, Castro sex shop Chaps (4057 18th St., between Castro and Hartford) will be closing at the end of the year.
Hoodline spoke with longtime Castro business owner Imad Bitar, who confirmed Chaps will be departing the neighborhood.
Signs have gone up this week outside Chaps, announcing the sex shop will be closing. From now until the end of the year, Bitar said, he's going to try and sell off as much inventory as possible while he figures out another idea for the space.
Bitar and his brother own three other Castro businesses: adult store Phantom (516 Castro St.) and smoke shops Smoke Plus (4059 18th St., next door to Chaps) and Puff 'n Stuff (504 Castro St.)
"Sales have been decreasing for the past two years," Bitar said, adding that breaking even at both his adult and smoke shops has become more and more difficult.
One factor which dramatically affected sales, he said, was last year's passage of Proposition E. The proposition, which went into effect in April, made it illegal for San Francisco stores to sell menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping liquids.
"[It] affected my business by about 30 percent," said Bitar.
Changing demographics and San Francisco's high cost of living have also affected sales at Chaps. "The leather community is changing a lot," he said. "There aren't as many older people, and the young people cannot afford to live here."
Between Chaps and Smoke Plus, Bitar says his rent is currently $12,100 per month — $5,500 at Smoke Plus and $6,600 at Chaps. He reached out to his landlord to negotiate a lower rent, but was unsuccessful.
While there's still a year left on the lease and an option to extend it for an additional five, he felt it was best to close now.
"I felt it's better for me ... to limit my losses," he said.
Like many Castro business owners, Bitar said the neighborhood's struggles with homelessness and the increasing dominance of Amazon have also affected business.
"The Castro used to be the best place," he said. "[But] Amazon's killing everybody."
He believes that the 2014 Castro Street Improvement Project, which narrowed the streets to one lane in each direction and expanded the sidewalks, was a major contributor to the increased homeless population in the area.
"Before, when the sidewalks used to be narrow, I could tell the homeless to move," he said. "But now they're far enough away from the entrance that I can't say anything."
"Look at Wild Card up at Jane Warner Plaza," he said, in reference to the longtime greeting card store that closed, citing homeless concerns, earlier this year.
Pointing towards the front door at Smoke Plus, Bitar says it's been broken so many times that he's decided to no longer fix it. Instead of paying to have the glass replaced, he said, he's just going to keep the plywood on it.
While Bitar is ready to close the chapter on Chaps, he still plans on keeping the space and is open to new ideas.
One option he's already considered is a cannabis retail license. He says he spent between $10,000 and 15,000 on pursuing permits, but ultimately abandoned the idea after it proved to be too difficult.
Another idea he's had is to convert the space into an art studio. Bitar
is currently responsible for was once involved with the ArtSavesLives Studio and Gallery inside the AHF Healthcare Center, and may partner with some neighborhood artists he met there. [Update, 11/13: Bitar is no longer involved with ArtSavesLives, which is now overseen by its cofounder, Thomasina Demaio.]
"I don't like the defeat," Bitar said, noting that he's reached out to District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for assistance. "I'm contacting everyone I know and trying to figure out an idea for the space."
Until another idea is found, Chaps will remain open, and Bitar will sell what he can. Any remaining inventory will eventually be moved to Phantom, which is set to undergo some changes as well.
"People go online now to buy things they used to purchase at sex stores," Bitar said. In order to compete, he'll begin selling clothing, underwear and tank tops at Phantom.
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