(KRON) — As big-box retailers continue leaving Downtown San Francisco en masse, many cite the city’s public safety issues and dwindling foot traffic as the reasons they are closing up shop. Small business owners agree.
A survey conducted by San Francisco’s Office of Small Business and San Francisco State University surveyed 802 small business owners across all ages, races and industries and found that what stressed most businesses were inflation on goods, dirty and smelly streets and lack of customers. While small business owners have expressed concern about shoplifting, it was not among the top challenges identified in the survey.
Just this month, a longtime local San Francisco bike shop High Road Bike Co. said it had plans to close by the end of May due to the financial hardship caused by several break-ins and lack of customers.
One small business owner said in the survey: “As a small business owner, I’m broken hearted by San Francisco. Rents are high, we are paying pre-covid rent and I have lost over 50% of my clients, clients that lived in surrounding areas were scared to come into the city due to crime, homeless(ness), dirty (streets). I think about closing up and moving everyday.”
What did they say they needed? Thirty-three percent of respondents said access to federal grants and loans would help their businesses stay afloat with 30 percent saying improved street conditions would improve customer flow.
The survey found that one-third of small businesses have been victims to crime between two and 10 times in the last year. Fifty-two percent of businesses survey said they think that having more community ambassadors to monitor streets would have a positive impact on business.
“We are profitable, but the mental illness on the streets has hurt our ability to keep staff, we don’t get prompt response from police, and we are consistently boldly shoplifted which hurts morale,” one respondent said, according to the survey.
The survey found that 29 percent of businesses planned to sell, close or move either online or to a new location with 54 percent planning to move outside of San Francisco.
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Many also cited high city taxes and fees as a reason that they felt that San Francisco was not a good place to own a small business and suggested the city extend its First-Year Free program, which waives startup fees for small businesses in their first year. The ongoing fees makes it hard to pay competitive salaries and retain good employees, according to the survey.
While High Road Bike Co. owner Chris Callaway told KRON4 he remains optimistic about owning small businesses in the city, he said the city should make it easier for entrepreneurs to open local stores. “I think at this point with this many commercial store fronts vacant we should have any use — make it easier for restaurants to open. We have to get creative.”
To support long-term growth, 34 percent of businesses said assistance with marketing and sales would be beneficial while 21 percent said help finding and retaining employees and 14 percent said they would like help developing online presences along with improvements to public safety, according to the survey.