We classified the types of businesses on Grant street into three main categories: retail, services, and food. Retail shops were broken down into gift shops, jewelry stores, antique/art, home goods, and electronics.
We observed that foot traffic on Grant beginning at Bush Street catered to mostly tourists. Around the Jackson intersection, shops begin to include more businesses that serve residents. To get more information, we interviewed 17 stores throughout Grant Ave including antique, electronic, tea, souvenirs, and service shops. Almost all of the employees of these retail stores do not live in Chinatown, but they do live in San Francisco. It makes sense in that recent immigrants may not speak enough English to work on the “Tourist Street.” However, in the food service industry in Chinatown, workers are local because they communicate in Chinese when preparing food in restaurants. We can conclude that Chinatown does not provide enough jobs for its residents, and this means that they travel to other parts of the city to work.
Grant Ave. is an inviting and convenient site for tourists and residents alike. A lot of the businesses, particularly boutique and souvenir shops, enjoy the constant flow of customers to their stores. This distinct corridor has only small businesses, due to the community’s demand preventing chain stores from competing with local businesses.
Grant Ave. is also where many major festivals are hosted, such as Autumn Moon Festival and Noodle Fest, which brings people from all over San Francisco to Chinatown.
Another big event is Sunday Streets that is coming to Chinatown’s Grant Ave. this August 26th. it is an rotating event in San Francisco where streets in a neighborhood are closed off for public open space to promote strong communities. Sunday Streets will be beneficial to the Chinatown community not only because it’ll keep people coming back to Chinatown, but it’ll also promote the businesses in the neighborhood from the increased pedestrian traffic.
Most of the storefronts along Grant have been open about 10-15 years, with some operating for as few as 1 month to over 30 years. With seasonal business cycles fluctuating up and down, the recent years have been poorest since 2008. We heard numerous stories of slow businesses and seen many empty stores. One antique store owner said that he does not have enough revenue to cover his costs, like the high cost of rent. A gift store owner says to compensate for her revenue lost, she either hires fewer workers or hires part-time students. A cosmetics shop owner asked us multiple times to enforce the no smoking law near storefronts and to enhance sidewalk cleanliness to attract more customers.
Along Grant Ave. is a saturation of gift stores and jewelry stores that ensue a competitive market for these businesses. Many of them sell similar items like plastic swords, earrings, scarves, etc. and because of that, they cannot sell their items at at a higher price. Although thousands of tourists and locals pour into Grant everyday, many of them just simply observe, but do not purchase the goods.
Lastly, Chinatown has a limited amount of parking available. This discourages people who live a great distance from Chinatown to buy cheap items and accessories.
As mentioned in our transit blog, there are fewer pedestrians as one walks inward on Grant Ave. To spur more economic growth, we recommend enforcing passenger-zone parking in order to have more foot traffic increasing the likelihood of customers. Temporary parking are often taken advantage of because drivers park for a longer time in these zones than they are legally should.
We thought of using public policy to address the issue of high rent. To prevent the closing of local or resident-serving businesses, we suggest a rent freeze for businesses. When we interviewed store owners, a common concern that arose was the cost of rent. Many explained that it was always rising, and it was difficult to make payments without raising prices for their customers.
For tourist-serving businesses, rising rent costs are not as difficult to deal with because of influx of tourists, but several resident-serving businesses experience competition from other businesses. Because of this, these business owners may find it harder to cover their overhead costs. If we were to place a rent freeze on resident-serving businesses, we can ensure that these businesses do not forced to leave.
To address the problem of common business types, we considered working closely with owners. As Vivian Chang, a senior planner at CCDC, mentioned that businesses tend to open similar ones to the existing ones next door. One way to stop conformity would be to work with new store owners to start unique types of businesses. This would avoid losing customers to a competing business and would live up to Chinatown’s name of being one of a kind.