The American economy is in a recession. California faces at $10 billion budget gap. San Francisco’s projected budget shortfall is approximately $350 million. That our neighborhood isn’t exempt from financial problems is attested to by many empty storefronts, including four on Castro Street between Market and 19th Streets. On 18th Street between Castro and Collingwood Street a former laundromat is empty. Across from it, the space housing De La Sole will soon be vacant, as the shoe store relocates. When they move, three spaces on that block will be empty.
Empty storefronts attract vagrants, litter, and crime. Thanks to San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty, during the 2007-08 fiscal year, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development awarded the LGBT Center a $25,000 Business Attraction Grant. The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District (CBD) added $15,000 and the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) contributed $10,000 to fund the program. Thanks to Ken Stram, the Center’s Director of Economic Development, much has been done to attract new businesses to the neighborhood and dispel misperceptions that the Castro is anti-commercial enterprise. The process is slow and hence, thanks to Dufty, the City will renew its grant for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The CBD will again contribute $15,000. MUMC, however, which operated at a deficit last year, won’t contribute. Dufty will ask local businesses to make up that shortfall.
Walgreen’s wants to expand into the long vacant former laundromat on 18th Street to accommodate new health services that offer a holistic approach to physical well being, including nutrition counseling. Walgreen’s won’t duplicate services or products they currently offer at their store on Castro and 18th Street. The new space will also have a meeting room that will be made available at no cost to community groups.
Is Walgreen’s a good corporate citizen? They recently donated $5,000 to a Eureka Valley school and replaced the worn out carpeting at the Community Meeting Room above the Bank of America Branch on Castro Street. They are strong supporters of the CBD. They’re working with Supervisor Dufty to design more attractive window displays at their main pharmacy.
Some people prefer to wait indefinitely for another tenant, although no one else has shown interest in this space. Others claim that Walgreen’s is offering new services to make a profit. But profit is the engine of
American capitalism. Still others doubt the viability of the new programs, despite their success in other locations.
Opposing Walgreen’s expansion and its willingness to make a long-term investment in our neighborhood without offering a viable alternative sends a negative message. It says that despite the financial contributions of the city and neighborhood groups aimed at bringing thriving enterprises to the area, the EVPA prefers a dingy, empty storefront to a dynamic, viable business.