Legacy Businesses

For our 2021 Soirée, Heritage engaged filmmaker and native San Franciscan Joey Yee to create a special video segment on the city’s legacy businesses. In this video, Joey visits some of the city’s most beloved legacy spots — from Buena Vista Cafe to Green Apple Books and Beep’s Burgers — and shares Heritage’s history of advocating and protecting these special places.

San Francisco Legacy Business Registry

Roxie Theater

Like many historic theaters, the Roxie faces perennial fundraising challenges that imperil its continued operation.  The theater joined the Registry on August 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Roxie Theater

Supervisor David Campos worked with San Francisco Heritage, the small business and nonprofit communities, neighborhood groups, and small property owners to spearhead the effort to save the city’s iconic and longstanding Legacy Businesses. Campos’ plan was introduced in two phases.

Phase one, which unanimously passed the Board of Supervisors in March 2015, created the San Francisco Legacy Business Registry.

A “Legacy Business” is defined as a business that has been nominated by a member of the Board of Supervisors or the Mayor and that the Small Business Commission has determined meets the following criteria:

    • The business has operated in San Francisco for 30 or more years, with no break in San Francisco operations exceeding two years. The business may have operated in more than one location. If the business has operated in San Francisco for more than 20 years but less than 30 years it may still satisfy this subsection (b)(1) if the Small Business Commission finds that the business has significantly contributed to the history or identity of a particular neighborhood or community and, if not included in the Registry, the business would face a significant risk of displacement.
    • The business has contributed to the neighborhood’s history and/or the identity of a particular neighborhood or community. Prior to the hearing, the Small Business Commission, or the Executive Director of the Office of Small Business on its behalf, shall request an advisory recommendation from the Historic Preservation Commission as to whether the business meets the requirement in this subsection (b)(2). If the Historic Preservation Commission does not provide an advisory recommendation within 30 days of receipt of the request, the Small Business Commission shall treat such nonresponse as an advisory recommendation that the business meets the requirement in this subsection (b)(2).
    • The business is committed to maintaining the physical features or traditions that define the business, including craft, culinary, or art forms.

(Left) The Arion Press/Lyra Corporation, at 1802 Hays Street in the Presidio, was added to the Registry on November 12, 2019.

Only 300 business can be nominated annually. The legislation is directly inspired by, and builds upon, Heritage’s Legacy Bars & Restaurants initiative launched in 2013 (see below).

Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund

Chinatown’s Sam Wo Restaurant closed its doors on April 20, 2012 due to prohibitive costs of correcting numerous health and building code violations. It reopened in 2015 in a new location and joined the Registry in 2016.

In 2015, Phase two asked voters to create the Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund via Proposition J, which provides grants to property owners who agree to lease extensions with Legacy Business tenants. Proposition J was approved by voters, with 56.97% in favor and 43.03% opposed. It was the first legislation in the nation to recognize notable small businesses as historic assets and incentivize their preservation.

The Legacy Business Preservation Fund makes Legacy Businesses on the registry eligible for an annual $4.50 per square foot grant, up to 5,000 square feet per location, to property owners who extend 10 year leases to Legacy Business tenants. Annual costs for the fund are projected at $3 million for the first year with an estimated annual new appropriation to the Legacy Businesses Fund of $3 million per additional year.

A 2014 report by the City’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office showed the closure of small businesses in San Francisco has reached record numbers with almost 4,000 small businesses closing in 2014 alone. In contrast, only 693 small businesses closed in 1994, the first year of the study. The report draws connections to San Francisco’s skyrocketing rents and the high level of commercial evictions. State law disallows controls on commercial leases, and commercial rents in most neighborhoods have risen significantly with some areas increasing more than 256%.

“These otherwise profitable small businesses are at the mercy of a speculation-fueled real estate market with zero protections for commercial renters. This initiative incentivizes the preservation of our Legacy Businesses and gives them a fighting chance to make it through the affordability crisis.” – David Campos

The Legacy Business Preservation Fund was created with input from small business leaders, preservation activists, nonprofit workers and small property owners. A poll conducted by David Binder Research showed that 67% of San Franciscans support the creation of the Legacy Business Preservation Fund.

For more information, visit the Office of Small Business website.

San Francisco Heritage’s Legacy Bars & Restaurants Initiative

In 2013, San Francisco Heritage launched “Legacy Bars and Restaurants,” a groundbreaking initiative that invited users to experience the history of some of San Francisco’s most legendary eateries, watering holes, dives and haunts. The online guide was the first of its kind to celebrate iconic establishments that contribute to the culture, character and lore of San Francisco.

San Francisco Heritage inducted 100 restaurants and bars, located throughout the city, into the initiative. These businesses had achieved longevity of 40 years or more, possessed distinctive architecture or interior design and/or contributed to a sense of history in the surrounding neighborhood.

Threats to local institutions underscored the need to develop new strategies for protecting places with intangible cultural significance. “Legacy Bars and Restaurants” was the first step in documenting the city’s vast commercial heritage and promoting businesses that did not necessarily qualify for formal historic designation, and directly inspired the creation of the city’s now existing Legacy Business Registry program.

Click the image below to explore our original Legacy Bars and Restaurants map.