Business Briefs: Castro businesses 'Looking ' for a bit of TV fame
by Matthew S. Bajko
One of the hottest trends this season in the Castro can't be found on any store shelves.
Instead, it is having the distinction of being chosen as a location for a new gay television show.
Due to the decision of the producers of the HBO series Looking to film on location in San Francisco and the Bay Area, they have been scouting various places for the weekday shoots.
Several businesses in the city's gay district have already played host to the show's stars and crew, from the upper Market Street gay sex club Eros and dance club the Cafe to eateries Cafe Mystique and Orphan Andy's . Another site in the Castro was Urban Flowers on 18th Street.
"This last week made a bigger buzz than the first day of filming. The neighborhood seems to be excited about being featured in an HBO show," Terry Asten Bennett , president of the Castro's merchant association, told the Bay Area Reporter.
Eros CEO Ken Rowe said he and his co-owners routinely allow porn studios to film at the safe sex club but often turn down requests from documentaries and news producers out of concerns on how the footage will be used.
"As soon as we heard who was involved in this project, both in front of and behind the camera, we gave the go-ahead to shoot at Eros," Rowe said. "The fact they are shooting in so many real locations is a positive for us and other small businesses. We look forward to it airing and hope the show can continue."
Other locations around town have included Duboce Park, South of Market gay nightclub the Stud, and during the Folsom Street Fair. The pilot shot back in April included scenes set at queer-owned club El Rio in the Mission.
Castro-based medical cannabis dispensary the Apothecarium has invited the television show to film inside its storefront at Market and Church streets. Alas, their offer has yet to be taken up.
When asked about the possibility of seeing a storyline involving medicinal marijuana be written into an episode of the show, co-owner Ryan Hudson said he has his "fingers crossed," perhaps in season two if it is picked up for renewal.
Bennett said the production team hasn't approached her yet about filming at her family's store Cliff's Variety, "but we would consider it."
The eight-episode, half-hour series centers on the lives of three thirty-something gay men. Jonathan Groff of Glee plays the lead character, Patrick, a gay video game developer who struggles in his social life. Frankie Alvarez , last seen on Smash, plays his best friend, while Murray Bartlett, of Guiding Light, rounds out the trio of leads.
Michael Lannan created the series, which will be executive produced by Andrew Haigh and Sarah Condon . The show is expected to wrap filming of its first season in early November; HBO has yet to say when it will air.
San Francisco officials estimate it will generate $2 million in economic impact for the city. And if it becomes a hit with viewers and critics, it could positively impact tourism to town by fans of the show.
"Productions like this help showcase our world class city to the world," noted Mayor Ed Lee in a statement his office issued last month after a lease for stage and production office space in the Mission was signed between the city and HBO.
It is the second time in as many years that an HBO project has been filmed in San Francisco. In early 2011 HBO filmed Philip Kaufman 's Hemingway and Gellhorn docudrama at various locations around town, employing more than 100 locals with a $6 million economic impact to the city.
HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo stated in the press release that the premium cable network was "thrilled" to now be back in the city with another project.
"Looking is as much about San Francisco as it is about the characters inhabiting the show," stated Lombardo.
Castro merchants eye name change
The Castro's business group is eying a name change as part of a new branding effort it plans to launch in 2014.
At their November meeting members of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro will be asked to adopt the new moniker Castro Merchants. The name is the same as the domain name of its website, which the group recently revamped and can be found at http://www.castromerchants.com.
Bennett, MUMC's president, announced the planned name change during the business group's meeting Thursday, October 3. She noted that studies MUMC has done in the past found that most people don't know what upper market stands for.
"Most people think it is on top of Twin Peaks," she said.
Technically, upper Market refers to the stretch of roadway past Octavia Boulevard. That is the northern boundary of the Castro Community Benefit District, and from there toward Castro Street is what the B.A.R. has referred to for years as the upper Market Street corridor.
A number of new housing developments in the area are advertising as being in the Castro, and Bennett said there is a financial benefit for businesses that tie themselves to the name Castro, one of the world's most famous gay districts.
With the city set to revamp the streetscape on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street next year, MUMC leaders feel it is an opportune time to change the group's name. The CBD was awarded $25,000 from the mayoral initiative Invest in Neighborhoods that will pay for a "still open for business" marketing campaign during construction on the street.
It could also help promote MUMC's name change and a new logo if the membership votes in approval of the idea.
BofA awards funds to SF LGBT agencies
Three San Francisco LGBT agencies are sharing $70,000 in grant money awarded to them by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation . It is part of the financial institution's giving more than $22 million in grants to over 1,050 nonprofits that support workforce development and education initiatives.
"Supporting nonprofit organizations that connect people to jobs and skills is part of our efforts to help improve the financial lives of individuals and customers in the communities we serve," stated Martin Richards, San Francisco market president, Bank of America. "A trained workforce ensures we remain competitive in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy and strengthens the economic health of the San Francisco community."
LYRIC, the Lavender Youth Resource and Information Center in the Castro, received funding for its Sequoia Leadership Institute, which prepares LGBTQQ and ally youth to enter the workforce through culturally relevant training.
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation will use its grant money to pilot the Financial Empowerment and Literacy Project for gay and bisexual men and transgender persons either HIV-positive or -negative who are experiencing fiscal issues. Volunteer financial advisers will work with the agency's clients on how to manage their personal finances.
And the San Francisco LGBT Community Center will use the grant money for its LGBT Employment Services, which provides comprehensive workforce services to low- and moderate-income LGBT community members experiencing multiple barriers to employment.
The BofA foundation does not disclose individual grant amounts.
CVS begins work on Castro store
This week national pharmacy chain CVS officially took possession of its storefront in the Castro and began work on remodeling the building. It plans to open in the Market and Noe Center sometime in February.
The shopping center near the intersection of Market and Noe streets has been without an anchor tenant for seven years since Tower Records closed. An effort to bring in a Trader Joe's to the space died due to parking and traffic concerns.
In a statement sent to the B.A.R. this week, property owner Kent Jeffrey, whose family has owned the site since 1928, wrote that CVS will help to revitalize the surrounding business district.
"The hundreds of new condominiums coming into the area under the Market and Octavia Plan should make an already great location for CVS even greater," he wrote. "All in all, a CVS at Market and Noe should be a win-win situation for both the neighborhood and for CVS."
Raymond Flournoy is expected to resume writing the Business Briefs column next month.