More companies migrating to Excelsior district 

More businesses are moving into San Francisco’s working-class Excelsior district, dropping commercial vacancyrates, filling gaps in local services and strengthening what many believe is an already-strong neighborhood.

Bordered by McLaren Park to the east and Interstate 280 on the north and west, the Excelsior has a commercial district along Mission Street and its major junctions, and is served by more than a half-dozen bus lines. Much of the rest of the neighborhood is made up of housing with little office or industrial space, with the result that the Mission Street corridor is very busy at most hours of the day. The neighborhood is very diverse, and reportedly has a high homeownership rate.

Citibank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo all have branches here in close proximity to one other, and Sterling Bank and Trust plans to open a branch in March at 4627 Mission St., Sterling VP and Regional Manager Stephen Adams said. The region is attractive in part because small-business banking in the neighborhood is strong and growing, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo executives said.

"Actually, we’ve picked up a lot of business lately. We’ve noticed that the area has flourished, and a lot of small business owners are moving in," Wells Fargo Business Area Manager Man-sim Tang said. "We’ve had to hire a business specialist to cater to the community."

U.S. Bank has also seen strong growth in checking at its Excelsior branch, which it purchased as part of its Bayview Bank acquisition in November 2002, senior VP Ole Larsen said. He thinks the growth is in part due to its "Second Chance Checking" program, which fits into city-government efforts to expand banking to lower-income people.

"It is integral to the whole consumer and relationship acquisition strategy for the bank. People usually start out their banking relationships with that checking account," Larsen said.

Like the banks, nonprofit groups are eager to fill commercial vacancies, according to Christy Johnston, director of the Excelsior Action Group and head of the Excelsior Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization project. In the three years her group has been working to increase business, retail vacancy rates have dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent, she said.

Businesses added since late 2005 include a branch of the local Martha & Bros. Coffee Co. chain, T-Mobile, E.B. Games and the Mama Art Café, which also serves as a community meeting and arts space. In October, Manila Oriental Market moved into a space left vacant by Cala Foods a year before, providing groceries and fresh fish at low prices. The nonprofits recruited the market with the help of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Johnston said.

"It [business] is very good," Manila Oriental Market co-owner Jim Lai said. "We have all kinds of customers here."

Entrepreneurs are drawn by the relatively cheap rent, Johnston said: $1.25 to $2 per square foot a month for retail and even less for office space, and more when courting national chains. The neighborhood still needs another shoe store, a children’s-clothing shop, a bookstore, a pet-supply shop and an American-style restaurant, she said.

"We have a lot of food but it’s all Mexican or Chinese, and we don’t have a breakfast place," she said. "We’ve got some really great Chinese bakeries, but no place to get artisan bread. The community groups I’ve been working with want to see businesses that are not competitive with what’s here."

Bars are one business category the Excelsior doesn’t need more of, Johnston said. One establishment, Scorpio’s, was shut down slightly more than a year ago after neighbor complaints. Her group is working with the other existing bars to help them improve their operations.

The previous high vacancy rate had been partly due to non-investing property owners, and Johnston has been working to convince them to improve their storefronts and rent them out. Her group has recently been given assistance by the nonprofit Urban Solutions, which is helping to market vacant store space.

"We’re inundated with inquiries," Urban Solutions Project Director Tracy Everwine said. "It’s just matching the appropriate space with the appropriate business."


Like the rest of San Francisco, condo development is occurring in the Excelsior, some on former business sites. Some locations:

» 5050 Mission St., formerly Cresta Auto Body Parts, now slated for mixed condos and ground-floor commercial space.

» 4441 Mission St., formerly B&B Sheet Metal, now slated for condos.

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