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Sunday, August 1, 2021

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UncategorizedEven Therapy can't pay the rent; is there any...

Even Therapy can’t pay the rent; is there any hope for Valencia St?

Therapy owner Wayne Whelan: When a place like this can't afford the rent, is there any hope for Valencia Street?
Therapy owner Wayne Whelan: When a place like this can’t afford the rent, is there any hope for Valencia Street?

By Tim Redmond

I’m not going to cry for Wayne Whelan. He’s been a very successful business owner in San Francisco; starting with $40 and one little storing selling used furniture, he’s built something of a hipster empire. His company, Therapy (you know – “retail Therapy”) now has 10 stores in Northern California.

It’s not cheap chairs anymore, either; Therapy on Valencia is selling thousand-dollar couches. And selling a lot of them.

But after 20 years, he’s shutting down his flagship Mission District store and moving the merchandise to a new place in the city of Alameda. The rent has just gone way to high.

To be very clear: This isn’t the end of the world for Whelan; he’s closed other stores before. He’s not going broke, or facing homelessness. He’ll find new slots for his current employees. He’s not presenting himself in any way as a tragic case.

Still, it’s something of a turning point for Valencia, a moment worth noting: When a store that sells all the stuff the new tech workers want to buy, that has been part of the fabric of the modern Valencia Street, a very successful part of a local chain, not in any way a struggling retail outlet … when Therapy can’t afford the rent, is there any hope for the Mission at all?

Have we gotten to the point where the stuff that attracts the tech folks in the first place – and that’s exactly what Therapy is – can’t afford to stay in a strip that is becoming nothing but really expensive restaurants?

Is this out of control, or what?

Whelan’s landlord wants $10,500 a month for about 1,500 square feet of space. That’s and 80 percent increase over what Whelan is currently paying. It’s almost downtown-level rent … at 16th and Valencia.

Right down the street, the asking price is $14,000 for 2,000 square feet. (And while Clothes Contact isn’t leaving yet, no used clothing store that sells fashion by the pound can make that kind of monthly nut.)

“There aren’t going to be any used clothing or furniture stores left on Valencia,” Whelan told me.

Again, bittersweet: When Therapy moved to Valencia 20 years ago, he was part of a wave of low-level gentrification. “They said, ‘there goes the neighborhood,’ because we washed the old furniture before we sold it,” he said.

Therapy evolved from a low-end kind of scruffy place to a place that catered to a new population in the Mission that could increasingly afford stuff that was bought at trade shows instead of flea markets. It’s been something of an indicator species for the neighborhood.

And Whalen have profited handsomely from the changes. You could argue that he’s been part of the process that has led to an absolutely brutal transformation of what was once a working-class neighborhood. He wouldn’t argue with you.

But while he’s opened and closed places all over the city, Valencia was special to Whelan: “I never wanted to close this store. I thought I would die in it.”

Whelan told me he might be able to cover the huge rent hike – but not with his current business practices. He starts his workers at $14 an hour, well about the city’s current minimum wage, and offers benefits and a matched 401 (k) plan. He donates one percent of all profits to local charities.

“I looked at the numbers, and I would be giving the landlord $850,000 for the life of the lease,” he said. “I’d rather that some of that money went to my employees and to philanthropy.”

The Therapy operation next door, which sells clothes and fashion stuff, is still open, for the moment, and Whelan hopes he can work out a deal with the landlord. We’ll see.

But he has no illusions about what’s happening: “My employees can’t afford to eat lunch at any of the local places,” he said.

I ride down Valencia almost every day on my bike (which I bought 15 years ago at Valencia Cyclery, which owns its building so should be okay). I’ve been watching the transformation for years (although, as Al Stewart, who maybe nobody under 40 has ever heard of, wrote, “you never seen the change from day to day.”

Year to year, though, you see the changes, and over the years, it’s stunning.

Just for fun, I went to the San Francisco public library website, where you can find a remarkable set of volumes known as city directories.

See, once upon a time, everyone had a land-line phone, and except for a few celebrities, most of them were listed in something called a “phone book.” So you could just look up a number for someone you wanted to talk to, and (before the era of voice mail and answering machines — Lord I am old) they would pick up the ringing phone and say hello.

And even before Excel, it was possible to take that data and reverse it – to get every name and address and number in the phone book, and list it by address, or by number, instead of by name. Marketers loved that. Me, too. The book that did it was called “Polk’s City Directory.”

Polk’s City Directory for 1980 is nicely scanned at sfpl.org. It allows you to look at all the addresses on Valencia and see what was once there. Now, of course, you can do that with Google, and I hope the mapping folks are keeping archives, so that I can look back in another ten years and see how many of the current businesses on Valencia are gone.

But for the moment, going back 30 years or so, we use analog. And we find a stunningly different picture.

In 1980, Valencia Street had auto-parts stores. Lots of used appliance stores. San Francisco Club Of the Deaf. Plumbers, stationers, furnace companies, auto repair, printers. La Rondalla was there, the old La Rondalla where you drank the tequila but avoided the food. A place called “Overnight Saw Service.” A sheet-metal place. Printers.

In fact, Valencia in 1980 was full of what we now call “PDR” – production, distribution, and repair. Blue-collar jobs. Stuff that we are desperately trying to save by zoning a few remaining sites in the southeast part of the city to restrict offices and condos.

And we once had it all, right in the Mission.

Neighborhoods change, and it’s been a while since Valencia Street was anything but a hipster food and shopping corridor. But you have to wonder: Is this the next Union Street? (No – there’s retail on Union Street. Valencia is becoming all high-end restaurants, a gourmet ghetto on steroids. There’s really no comparison in the city.

Is that really what the Mission wants and needs? When did we decide that?

Don’t cry for Wayne Whelan. But shed a tear, maybe, for 16th and Valencia, where the commercial gentrification is so utterly, completely explosive that even the guy who made it hipster cool can’t stay anymore. Wow.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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59 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll miss ya’ Wayne Whelan. You’re the real deal! And that’s what’s disappearing… people with something to say and that don’t sound like a sound bite. People that have a personality and contribute to the history of a place. That is a loss, because that is what gives a city character.

  2. You replied to Stan, not Sam. Time for new glasses?

    Why would you “cry a river” for any tenant who has rented since 1985 and so knew about, or should have nown about, the fact that they could be Elli’sed at any time?

    They knew the risks.

  3. The next-to-last printer on Valencia–at 23d, in a space occupied by a series of printers stretching back over 60 years–closed recently. I would assume that both this and the TheRapy spaces will become restaurants for affluent foodies chasing the next trendy bite (and then getting bored with it). Maybe CCSF should just scrap the whole graphic imaging department now across Valencia and make the whole Mission campus Hotel & Restaurant, with a big twitter component so the $chool of fi$h knows where to go tonight.
    Of course, I saw a tabletop printing pop-up table on Valencia near 18th on Valentine’s Day. If that’s the future of ink-on-paper, I am glad I am too old a SF printer to survive it.

  4. Yes- this is what is keeping some places open in NYC also. Especially some bookstores and other businesses that do not have a chance against a bank, a cell phone store, a drugstore or even better when the whole block is taken over for another chain store.

  5. Yawn. So tired of hearing old fogies complain about the changes. Lookit, i’ze been here in Frisco for over 20 years. I liked the mission of the early 90’s, the New Mission of the 2000’s, and the New New Mission of 2014. I like neighborhoods that change. Static is boring. But I guess people get satisfaction by complaining. Especially about things they cannot control like neighborhood changes.

    But if you really want to know my SF has changes that much, it’s really quite simple. It’s due to a trifecta of: 1- tech moving in, 2- global wealth and urban revitalization, 3- rent control/growth restrictions. 1- brings well paying jobs, and a multiple of support jobs to the city. 2- is a general and global trend, and SF ranks high on the desirability list. And 3- is of our (heads in the sand) choosing. We get the city we deserve. Embrace the change!

  6. You would be bitter too if you had to settle for Austin! I mean, for Texas it’s frickin great, but compared to SF, blah.

  7. i hate gentrification as much as the next guy. i really do hate it. i moved away from SF because i found the materialism completely obnoxious, and i didn’t want to be anywhere near it anymore. but hasn’t gentrification been happening since the very first cities were built? it just happens when a city is prospering. i don’t think there’s any way to stop it. the mission really was a special place — i don’t think anyone can question that. and nobody likes it when the rich and privileged move in, but hey, that’s life. it’s the same anywhere you go. the mission can’t be saved, but there’ll be other neighborhoods to rise up and take its place. to me, the interesting part is to see how quickly it’s happening, and to see how helpless social media is against it. if you really want to save your city, put your tablets away and go out there with baseball bats and start cracking some skulls. that’s the only way.

  8. Imperial San Francisco (great read: amzn.to/1uJ4HMF ) contains many references to the post-1906 notion held by many San Franciscans that the city was never again as special as it was before the great quake. ‘Twas ever thus…

  9. Herb Caen (anybody here know who that was?) got famous writing about how SF had been turning to crap since the good old 1940s. It’s part of San Francisco’s caché that it has been slowly transmogrifying to worse and worse crap for decades. Whenever you first arrive in the City will always remain the good old days of SF, in your mind. In 1954 (imagine how idyllic the City must have been in those days), one of the stars in Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ said, “The things which spell San Francisco to me have long disappeared”, or something to that effect, and Jimmy Stewart cursed the Coit Tower. I first came to SF in 1984, and I thought things were great. Left in ’89, came back 10 years later and oh my Christ what a craphole the City had become in my ten year absence. Meanwhile, somewhere, someone is lamenting the good old days of San Francisco 1999, and some new arrival in town is agog with joy and ambition. If you’re unhappy in SF, why not move on to ruin Portland and Seattle, like the rest of the refugees are doing?

  10. And the first sentence in paragraph 12 reads “and Whalen HAVE profited” when it should read “and Whalen HAS profited”..

  11. Tsk tsk Sam! You’re dropping your guard and practically begging for a hand-out from us.

    “Give me a break”? Why should you get the break?

    There’s no break for landlords who are poor business people, bad investors and who like to sit back and collect the rent while living & indulging their freewheeling, slacker “landlord” lifestyles…

    (I laughed at your original compounded & jealous absurd generalization)

    “Prop 13 passed and I don’t understand rent control and compound interest” – Sam

    Cry me a river!

  12. Not sure what the numbers are exactly. But as far as this article is concerned, the cost of living – food, gas, utilities – is the same in Alameda (where Therapy is moving) as it is in the Mission, but the Mission has much higher rents. So it’s not just cost of living increases that are making Valencia so expensive.

  13. We are told that the inflation rate is low or nonexistent, but for necessities like food ( http://yhoo.it/Vdxr3S ), fuel ( http://bit.ly/1B9PicM ), electricity ( http://bit.ly/1oEwNs2 ) and pretty much all other commodities ( http://ti.me/1q5B6Jl ), we are paying much, much more in real terms than we were for the time frame cited in the article (mid 90s). Seeing as these are expenses consumers must grapple with, when you couple the economic reality of inflated commodities plus non-existent growth, you essentially have Carteresque stagflation.

  14. Isn’t inflation around 0.25 percent this year? The Economist is reporting around that figure, and saying that it is shockingly low.

  15. Valencia Cyclery owns their real estate. So does Lucca, Harrington, La Rondalla, Boogaloos, The Marsh, and many others. Isn’t that the key to security?

  16. If rent increases were proportional to inflation or the cost-of-living index you might have a point. But they’re not, and you don’t.

  17. Yep, left in 98 and never looked back. You can have the greed and the overrated city. I lived in an amazing and beautiful city in Italy for 4 years, just 20 minutes for Venice for less than what I would spend in one year to live in SF. Why people still even try must be self torture. I now work part time and while living in Austin is not as beautiful as SF I can still afford to travel to Italy twice a year. Why am I supposed to go back to SF or even give a rats ass about the place?

  18. I don’t understand how these I-don’t-want-anything-to-change folks can observe rising inflation costs across the board (basics like food, services, etc. all cost more these days) and somehow STILL find a way to bitch and moan about how rent costs should not increase to match. Do our landlords not need to feed themselves and their families? A loaf of bread used to cost a fifty cents around the same time that median rents were three hundred dollars. Are you crybabies proposing that landlords should shoulder the increased costs alone while tenants who indulged their freewheeling, slacker “artist” lifestyles and didn’t save a nickel over time should have their rent frozen at 1976 prices? I agree that the ultra-inflated property values are obscene and do not reflect a realistic valuation but you want someone to cry you a river because your rent is no longer “365 a month”? Give me a break.

  19. Left 20 years ago. I raised kids in SF, despite the brutal rents even back then. The usual 2 small bedroom flat for 1175, a month- now have a 3 bedroom house for a 1088. a month mortgage in the upper midwest. I can not imagine what those flats are now. I started in 1976 in the Castro for 365 a month- the same flat was up to 1175 at 29th and Mission in 1994. We loved the Castro and the Mission- bakeries, thrift stores, book stores. Yes- there were restaurants, but it was as the writer describes- there were real businesses serving people. The same rotten is going on in NYC and Brooklyn- just not sure who our cities are for anymore. Suburban 25 year olds getting their “city experience” before moving back to the suburbs. Seems like cities are nothing but entertainment centers to keep suburban folks entertained …. Miss the coasts, but they are totally beyond anyone’s means anymore.

  20. A few typos in this article.

    “The rent has just gone way to high.” should be “The rent has just gone way too high.”
    “well about the city’s current minimum wage” should be (I’m guessing) “well above the city’s current minimum wage”.

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