Owner Denise Gonzales has sought to make use of her proximity to BART by appealing to passersby of all races. The gift store is colorful, with a big, open doorway and polished wood floors. Her business has picked up since she moved, says Gonzales, 54, a Peruvian woman with a broad, welcoming face. The customer base has become more "American," she says, by which she means white.

Gonzales and Maldonado think, to some extent, that businesses that can't or won't change doom themselves to failure. The older generation of businesses can boost their economic outlook by updating storefronts and making an effort to appeal to the neighborhood's newer residents, Gonzales says. Restaurants and bakeries haven't kept up with growing appetites for healthier fare, says Maldonado; they could offer less food but boost the quality.

Those approaches have shown early promise for Rafael and Tyrisha Frias, the new owners of El Nuevo Frutilandia, a brightly lit living room of a restaurant that abuts Lucky Street alley.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Erick Arguello, head of the Lower 24th Street Merchant’s Association, in his “makeshift office” at L’s Caffe on 24th Street.
Anna Latino
Erick Arguello, head of the Lower 24th Street Merchant’s Association, in his “makeshift office” at L’s Caffe on 24th Street.

Rafael, a lifelong Mission resident who owned a restaurant once before, saw Frutilandia as a neighborhood icon. When the owners decided to sell, they first considered a buyer who planned to put in a coffeeshop, Frias says. "I felt it was my duty as a local to try to save it."

Frias and his wife gave the place a much-needed paint job, put out a sidewalk sign, and made a Facebook page with an online ordering app. Positive Yelp reviews followed.

It's still not a slam-dunk, though. "Any business is a struggle. You have to try, you have to make it work," Frias says.

Struggling businesses face an economic double-bind, unable to revamp their stores or boost marketing efforts, Arguello and Martinez say. Business loans are hard to come by in this period of tight credit. The merchant's association is helping businesses dive into online marketing, and it's exploring a wide range of options to help with the costlier fixes.

There's no lack of trying to keep the area's Latino history alive in the present.


In the future, the 24th Street corridor will be a laboratory for a different approach to supporting commercial districts. It is among the first neighborhood business districts the Office of Economic and Workforce Development will seek to sustain through a new program, Invest in Neighborhoods, in which the city will invite merchants to help calibrate the services their district needs most.

In areas with high vacancy rates, the city incentivizes new businesses setting up shop. But along 24th Street, the goal is to preserve stalwart Latino businesses.

"There is a real desire on everyone's part, including many of the new merchants in the neighborhood, to preserve as much of the existing character of the neighborhood as possible. We feel like stabilizing the merchants who want to stay is the priority. We've heard enough from neighbors that they want to see the small businesses that have been there for a long time, they want to see them stay," says Jordan Klein, a neighborhood manager at the OEWD.

The neighborhood's celebrated history of Latino and union activism has marshaled a sense, in a city that continues to lean left, that its roots should be preserved. And many of the new businesses have taken steps to fit in. Rosenberger has made an effort to ensure that her bookstore reflects the neighborhood, actively courting Latino customers by stocking Spanish-language books and displaying work by Latino artists in the gallery space at the back of the store. She says Latinos make up about half of her clientele. "I'm trying to hold off hipsterdom at the door."

Pickering says he wanted to keep Pig & Pie "down-home and downscale," in keeping with the area's character.

"I get my back up not so much about businesses that come in to change the Latino character of the place, but businesses that are upscaling and trying to make it another Valencia," he says.

The merchant's association is working to ensure that, even if Latino businesses continue to disappear, the neighborhood will at least retain physical evidence of its history.

"Those that have been here a long time are concerned it's going to lose its flavor and become bland, that it'll get too polished. Because that's the beauty of it in a way," says Arguello.

Before Arguello persuaded him to leave it, Pickering had planned to trash the three-dimensional Discolandia sign that sits atop the Pig & Pie storefront. Pickering's glad he kept it, despite the strange branding that results. Some longtime residents have stopped in to thank him, he says. But few stay to eat. Pickering hopes adding chorizo to the menu will help, but his expectations are low.

Even as white and Latino cultures interact with curiosity and respect, they still tend to self-segregate. Latino-owned L's Caffe draws a significantly browner clientele than Sugarlump coffeehouse, which sits directly across the street.

In a skirmish that hints at tensions beneath the surface, a rumor circulated that Wise Sons planned to erase the youth-painted mural that adorns its eastern wall. Arguello and others approached the owners about retaining it, co-owner Evan Bloom says. The rumor was baseless, Bloom says — if anything, the deli hopes to do more work with a neighborhood nonprofit that organizes youth to paint murals.

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11 comments
carlos.chavarinjr
carlos.chavarinjr

Great article,  Jaime Maldonado  said it best when stating, "I get sad that Latinos in my generation aren't more progressive and proactive in terms of understanding that things are going to cost to make things better."  This is exactly how I feel!  I thank you for including it in this article.

skemptastic
skemptastic

I've heard that the swim is first so fewer people drown (as in, you'd be much more likely to drown if you swam last, after being exhausted from biking and running). Very sad news about Ehlinger, at any rate.

LibertyHiller
LibertyHiller

Late to the party, but...  One small detail: St. Peter's was NOT the first Catholic parish built for the Irish community of SF. That honor belongs to St. Patrick's in SOMA, which is about 16 years older.

eddie.ferrusquia
eddie.ferrusquia like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great article on gentrification in the Mission District.You say “evolution of 24th Street”, I say socio-economic Darwinism.As a Latino and exile of my once-beloved neighborhood, I generally sense in my people a great deal of defeatism towards gentrification that would have been unimaginable just 40 years ago at the height of the Chicano Power movement.Whatever the hell happened to us since then is beyond me, but if it’s anybody’s fault that Latinos are being shoved into the armpits of California (no offense, Stockton) it’s probably us.

But before us Latinos all stock up on Speed Stick, allow me to leave a few words of wisdom to the new (read: mostly white) residents of the Mission:

Dear hipsters and yuppies: (Is there a difference, really?  I’m not being sarcastic; we really don’t know.  We just call you yupsters for the sake of clarity.)

Every time you walk down our streets at night, point and snap photos in our store windows while we’re working late, and go “oooh”, and “aaaah”, and “hahaha, isn’t that funny”, it’s actually fucking obnoxious.  The Mission is not a zoo and Latinos actually resent being treated like exhibits in our own neighborhood.  (“See the endangered Chicano in its native habitat before it's extinct!)  When the class-cleansing that started with Willie Brown has finally finished its work in San Francisco and there’s not a single one of us left, then you can open the exhibit.  Maybe breed a few of us in captivity.  Turn the place into a wax museum.  Preserve the traces we left behind so that future generations can discover who we were.  (“Look, they left paintings on the walls!”)

You might think we don't understand when you make fun of us, but chances are we do.  (BTW, they’re called quinceañera dresses, they're supposed to be big and colorful, and they're designed for 15 year old Latinas, not a gaggle of snickering, siddidy, 30-something white girls already way past their prime.  Sorry ladies, you couldn't rock those dresses if you tried.  If you find them overly ornate and ostentatious, why don’t you slip into something more your style, like a tasteful Scandinavian-inspired evening gown, or a bedsheet with straps?)

As much as we all love organic patchouli burgers, not all of us can afford to eat at upscale “foodie” joints.  Latinos for the most part find it counterproductive to impress first dates with conspicuous displays of wealth – we save that for the wedding.  Nor do we feel the need to wow her with our extensive knowledge of the esoteric world of kelp-based Sri Lankan cuisine.  You’d be surprised what we can do with pupusas and a sexy Spanish accent.  Don’t you yupsters have your fill of pretentiousness in the art scene?  Now you gotta be bougie about food?  How about just thanking God for something to eat in a city where hundreds of homeless go hungry every day?  But I’ll tell you what: you stop judging us for walking around with a Popeye’s drink, and we won’t make fun of your knit sweaters and corny old-timey mustaches.  Anymore.

Some things are just better left to the pros.  There’s something not quite right when November creeps upon us and the only people not actually marching at Day of the Dead are Mexicans.  It’s because we now know how black people felt when Elvis came along.  Day of the Dead is a sacred Mexican tradition, not a Halloween after-party.  Those of us who observe Day of the Dead have a connection rooted in hundreds of years of Aztec and Mexican culture that gives us the right to honor our ancestors in this way.  The only connection yupsters have to Day of the Dead is a pasty, almost skeletal complexion.

You can have Cinco de Mayo, though.  It’s BEEN played out for a minute now and really, it’s all about the booze anyway.

Truth is, whatever armpit we Latinos end up shoved into, we’ll always bring the Mission with us.  By the time we’ve all made the move to the unholy perimeter around the Bay Area, we will have brought with us drink, tacos, music, dance, murals, horchata, bachata, chancletas, women, men, rolling r’s, poetry, culture, and cholos.  In short, we will infuse LIFE into those barren wastelands of 100 degree summers and meth.  We turn armpits into cleavage!  Pretty soon the Mission will be the new armpit of San Francisco and yupsters will once again be on the prowl for a new trendy area to gentrify.  But as much as you yupsters won’t be able to resist telling all your friends about the scene in Watsonville and decide you want to “slum it up” for the weekend, please, this time do us all favor and stay home.  Don’t come running to our new hood when you’ve turned yours into Whitebreadistan and it’s no longer cool anymore.  Latinos know all about what happens to our neighborhoods when they become “hip”, and we hate packing.

- Ed  (Mexicanus Chicanicus)

gringo.salad
gringo.salad

@eddie.ferrusquia Latinos who bought real estate in the Mission are doing great - either from the increased commercial rents they now receive or from the sale of their properties.

tomkirvin
tomkirvin

Neighborhoods change over time. Just as Latinos moved into the Irish/Italian neighborhood and built 24th St. as we know it now, others will move into the Latino neighborhood and establish their cultures.

HIstory
HIstory

@tomkirvin  The Irish and Italians left on their own for the American dream in the suburbs.  Track homes were being built by the thousands and where cheap after world war two. They left not just from the Mission but from the Castro and other parts of the City. Housing in the city was abundant and inexpensive at one point.

Today people are being pushed out by developers, investors, realtors. They are being evicted for higher rents. Ellis Acts are on the rise again with the promise to move in and they don't or have family move in until they could rent again at higher rents. Tenants and business's are being harassed and bullied. The murals that made our neighborhood colorful are now being deemed ugly and removed.

Its a big difference.

tomkirvin
tomkirvin

@HIstory @tomkirvin My Mexican family left the Mission on their own, too, for the suburbs. I watched it happen in the '50s and '60s. I came back. You cannot legislatively create a neighborhood and certainly you should not do so by race or ethnicity. Neighborhoods evolve. They go away and return as something else.

eddie.ferrusquia
eddie.ferrusquia like.author.displayName 1 Like

@tomkirvin - the key difference this time around is that while the Irish and Italians moved out of their own accord (white flight into the suburbs), Latinos are being displaced by good old fashioned capitalism.

 
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