Fees. Taxes. Red Tape.

2 min

Small business has always been a vital part of urban economies, but bar-owner Ben Bleiman says San Francisco is doing its best to bury it in fees, taxes and regulation.

Joni Mitchell once sang, “Don’t it always seem to go…that you don’t know what you got, til it’s gone.”

Imagine your favorite San Francisco neighborhood without small business. No bakery. No taqueria. No pizza parlor. No book store. Just dead storefront after dead storefront lining your community like tombstones.

I’ve owned ten bars and restaurants in SF for more than a decade, and I need you all to hear me: We are dying. North Beach has 36% storefront vacancies. In the Castro entire blocks are nearly empty. Three major restaurants closed their doors in South Beach last month. Walk down once bustling Union Street on a Thursday night at 8 pm and it’s as creepy as a zombie movie.

How’d things get so bad? It’s a boomtime, right? People blame greedy landlords and Millennial buying habits, but I don’t. I blame City Hall.

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For the past decade city leaders have skyrocketed our expenses. Higher fees. Higher taxes. More legislation targeting us. And more red tape, adding to a permitting process and planning code that rival the Soviet Union in complexity and irrationality. Restaurant payrolls alone have gone up 52% in the last five years on average. You don’t need a degree in economics to know what effect that has on a mom-and-pop business.

Meanwhile, the City doesn’t live up to even its most basic responsibilities to us. The streets are filthy and dangerous. Permitting departments routinely lose our applications and refuse to return our calls. Our once-lean planning code subjects our businesses to months of public hearings and thousands of dollars of expenses.

What can small business do? We just raise our prices and pray. No wonder online retailers and blood sucking gig economy companies are eating us alive. After taxes, fees and tip, a burger and a beer at my dive bar costs $27. We have Norwegian prices without any of their social services!

It’s time City Hall started offering solutions for small business instead of more problems. No more fees or taxes that force our prices endlessly up. Streamline our permitting process and planning code. And pass legislation that boosts small business instead of destroying it.

Otherwise, the next string of vacancies may be in your neighborhood.

With a Perspective, I’m Ben Bleiman.

Ben Bleiman is a bar owner and small business advocate in San Francisco.

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