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Despite Booming Economy, Vacant Storefronts Common In San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The increasingly common site of vacant buildings and empty storefronts around San Francisco despite the thriving economy has local business owners and city officials pushing for change.

It's not just that Amazon has changed the shopping habits of many, or that rising rents have forced some mom and pop stores out of business.

Daniel Bergerac of the Castro Merchants Association tells KPIX 5 what makes it even more difficult is that the storefronts stay empty, sometimes for years at a time.

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That level of blight can make it harder for all the neighboring business. And Bergerac says landlords don't seem to feel any pressure to rent them back out.

"The laws of supply and demand work everywhere except for San Francisco retail space," said Bergerac. "There is nothing that is there to push them into renting the spaces."

The city has fined some landlords of vacant storefronts, but those fines often total just under $700 a year. More often, landlords manage to find loopholes.

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For example, if a landlord puts a "for sale" or "for rent" sign out front, they don't have to pay the fine. That leads some property owners to simply wait for another tenant who is willing to pay a higher rent.

"As a landlord, unless they really nail me, I'm probably going to ride it out," explained San Francisco landlord Dave Burleigh. "Because the risks of giving somebody a 5 or 10 year lease and not having it work out could be a lot greater for me."

San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Fewer says she is working on legislation that would increase the fines property owners face in addition to putting other kinds of pressure on landlords to get vacant storefronts back on the market more quickly.

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"You're part of our neighborhood. You're part of the vitality of that commercial corridor," said Fewer. "Because you're an empty storefront, you're adding to blight. I say that is being fairly selfish, quite frankly. And I actually think it's time we crack down on it."

Supervisor Fewer told KPIX 5 she will introduce that legislation by the end of the year.

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