Business Briefs: Castro merchants' holiday wish: Customers
by Matthew S. Bajko
With many Castro businesses reporting weak sales throughout most of 2014 due to a major streetscape project that disrupted traffic for nine months in the heart of San Francisco's gayborhood, the district's merchants are wishing for a better-than-normal holiday shopping season this year.
"This holiday season is everything for us," Terry Asten Bennett, whose family owns and operates Cliff's Variety at 479 Castro Street, told the Bay Area Reporter. "We usually depend on the fourth quarter; this year every business in the neighborhood needs it desperately."
Daniel Bergerac, a co-owner of Mudpuppy's and president of Castro Merchants, the gayborhood's business association, said this year's Christmas shopping season is "very, very important" due to the drop off in business brought by the sidewalk work.
"For the merchants it has been nine months of eating dust," said Bergerac, echoing a phrase Bennett has used in describing the sales declines attributed to the street project. "Everyone is hurting. Because of the construction project, it's really been painful. It's hurt all the merchants."
High on her Christmas wish list, said Bennett, is for "tourists and residents to show us their support" by shopping at Cliff's and other Castro stores.
"We need the community to get behind the merchants and spend their money in the Castro to keep it a viable, vibrant, activated shopping neighborhood," added Bergerac.
Those who do will find newly expanded sidewalks on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street as well as new street trees and other enhancements added as part of the $6 million improvement project the city undertook. Most of the work wrapped up in time for Halloween, while crews are expected to finish repaving Jane Warner Plaza and reconfiguring the crosswalks at the Market and Castro streets intersection ahead of Thanksgiving.
Because Thanksgiving falls late this year – Thursday, November 27 – merchants will only have four weekends between Black Friday and Christmas week to lure shoppers into their stores. The Castro Merchants will kick off its annual holiday promotion with a tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Monday, December 1.
The tree is set to arrive early in the morning of Thanksgiving and will be installed in the plaza fronting the Bank of America branch at 18th and Castro streets. Colorful bows will again be wrapped around the palm trees in the median along Market Street.
New this year will be colored lighting for the street trees on the sidewalks along Market Street between Castro and Sanchez.
"It will be a nice welcome into the Castro neighborhood," said Bergerac.
To mark its 25th annual Home for the Holidays concerts that take place on Christmas Eve at the Castro Theater, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus is asking merchants in the gayborhood to use a red and silver color scheme this year in decorating their storefronts.
Those businesses taking part – 10 had already signed up as of last week – will receive T-shirts promoting the holiday concerts that their employees can wear as well as a commemorative ornament celebrating the 25th anniversary they can display. They are also asking stores to remain open late the night of the performances.
"We are not just sticking up posters again on their windows. It is more than that because it is the 25th anniversary," said Tim Seelig, the chorus' artistic director. "In 1990 no one knew if we would all survive. It was such a dark time."
To honor those businesses and organizations that have survived and supported the chorus over the years, a video montage using vintage photos of the Castro will be incorporated into this year's concerts.
"It will be at the end when we sing 'Home for the Holidays,'" said Seelig.
Tickets for the three December 24 shows – at 5, 7, and 9 p.m. – can be purchased via the chorus' website at http://www.sfgmc.org. The chorus plans to also sell the commemorative ornaments online for $10 apiece or $5 each when ordering three or more.
Cliff's school fundraiser enters 7th year
For the seventh year Cliff's Variety will be raising money for a Castro-based public school Thanksgiving weekend.
Since 2007 the store has raised roughly $20,000 for the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy due to its annual fundraiser. Its target this year is to raise $4,000 for the school adjacent to the Castro's Collingwood Park and named for the city's first openly gay elected official.
Beginning Friday, November 28 through Sunday, November 30, shoppers at Cliff's who make a $5 donation toward the school receive a 20 percent discount on their purchase, excluding ladders, power tools, appliances, and labor.
Gay-owned market launches gift boxes
Big Bottom Market, a gay-owned general store in the Sonoma County resort town of Guerneville, has launched a collection of gift boxes featuring local products in time for the holiday shopping season.
The gift boxes come in three sizes – big, bigger, biggest – starting at $25 and feature a variety of items, from CC Made caramel corn and caramels to jars of Mendocino Mustard and Inna Jam, which is based in Emeryville. There are also personal care products from Los Angeles-based Further, which uses restaurant waste grease to make glycerin hand soaps and body lotions.
"We are very deliberate in choosing the artisans we work with to curate the shelves at Big Bottom Market with some of the most unique products we can find," stated Kerry Hyatt , the store's general manager. "Based on feedback from our customers we've put together a collection of the most popular products into three gift boxes and the online shop allows our far away fans to share a taste of Big Bottom Market."
Orders to be sent anywhere in the U.S. can be made at the store's website – http://www.bigbottommarket.com – where customers can choose among the three gift boxes listed or customize their own.
Fountaingrove Lodge, the LGBT retirement community in Santa Rosa, hired Kevin Hogan as its new executive director. Hogan had previously worked as the president and chief operations officer of Bay Area-based Nazareth Health Care Inc., which operates a number of senior living facilities.
Hogan's spouse of 23 years, Mick Velasquez , is a general building contractor based in Marin County who focuses on helping seniors age in place in their homes.
Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:.