Mom and pop stores find it hard to survive in San Francisco

Dozens of mom and pop businesses in San Francisco have shuttered over the past few years and merchants say it's because of skyrocketing rents and a change in consumer spending habits. Currently there are 22 empty storefronts in Cow Hollow, mainly on Union Street.

Lesley Leonhardt has owned her art shop, Images of the North, since 1979. Over the past few months, she's grown concerned over the volume of closed stores.

"This last year has been very quiet for retail," said Leonhardt., who believes mom and pop shops are struggling to meet sky-high rents and keep up with fluctuations in consumer habits.

"I think retail has been so changed by Amazon for one thing, e-Bay, you know we have a lot of competition that we did not have before," she stated. 

A street that used to be overrun with restaurants, jewelry and boutique shops has morphed into a haven for Lululemon wearers and yoga and SoulCycle die-hards.

"The rent here is crazy and I live in the neighborhood personally, so I know it from a residential standpoint, so I can imagine it's just astronomical as well for commercial," said Brooks Wallace, who works at Hollywood Agency, a PR and communications firm. 

Next door to Jest Jewels on the 1800 block of Union, a 2800-square foot space sits empty, but is on the market for $21,000 a monthly lease.

"How do you compete? I mean when it's huge corporations with tons of capital available then it really pushes the mom and pop out so I feel for them," said Wallace.

Merchants who spoke to KTVU say the biggest problem is a lack of foot traffic during the week.
Some business owners say they're relocating their shops downtown where they can potentially attract more tourist dollars.

Realtors and city officials say there are good vacancies and bad vacancies, meaning, not everyone is being forced out because they can't pay rent. 

Some places need upgrading, many are undergoing remodeling, and with the city's lengthy permit process, it could be a while before those stores open for business.

So is this a battle between big box stores and the little guy? Not necessarily, say merchants, many of whom appreciate chains like beauty giant Sephora and Starbucks, which draw more business to the area.

But neighbors say a plan to put a gym and a Shake Shack where the old Real Foods Company on Filbert and Fillmore used to be, would destroy the character of the area.