Mr. Smith's, the small, two-level nightclub that debuted on Seventh Street just off Market back in the days when the new Federal Building was under construction, has called it quits after 15 years in the neighborhood where it was once one of the first signals of gentrification to come.
"As of today I closed my business, Mr. Smith’s," wrote Mr. Smith's owner Max Young in a letter to Supervisor Matt Haney and Mayor London Breed on August 31, per the Examiner. "Rampant open air drug dealing and drug use has completely taken over my block. My employees quit, my customers disappeared, no one wants to be on my block, including me. As a native San Franciscan it makes me sick to say that."
Young owns the building where the bar once thrived, and he said he felt especially burned for having paid taxes and paid into a Community Benefit District for two decades after seeing drug dealing only get worse at the corner of Seventh and Market, and spread down his block. "I’ve done my job. You need to do yours," he wrote.
That gentrification in the Mid-Market area, long foretold, has been slow going to say the least. The Chronicle did a whole package in May about the stalled and unfulfilled promises of the last decade and a half, talking with developers and local business owners. And the long and the short of it is that no one should expect that a tax break and a few scattered upscale restaurants are going to radically alter the face of a neighborhood in just a few years.
Despite the presence of employees from Twitter, Thumbtack, Zendesk, Match.com, Uber, Square, Dolby, and other companies, and despite the new residents that moved into buildings like NEMA at 10th and Market, the stretch of Market Street between Fifth Street and Civic Center has remained much the same, if not worse than it was a decade ago in terms of open-air drug dealing, drug use, and the chaos of mental illness.
The Chronicle reports today on a milestone in the area — two problem businesses, the Quick-Stop mini-market and the smoke shop next door to it at 1072 Market Street — have shut down after the landlords received a letter from the City Attorney threatening legal action. The letter, dated April 25, said that the businesses were "a public nuisance as a result of permitting drug activity."
The businesses' closures follow just weeks after a brazen daytime shooting that was directed right toward their front doors, and which injured one person.
Full disclosure: I lived for seven years directly across the street from those two businesses, and I watch weed dealers hang out outside them every day of those seven years, between 2005 and 2012. In 2006, I even witnessed a shooting right outside, which left several people injured and seemed directly linked to the weed-dealing activity and the people who congregated there. So how did it take until 2019 for the City Attorney to take notice?
Brian Smith, a co-owner of Huckleberry Bicycles — one of the notable gentrifying businesses that moved in almost a decade ago, and whose ownership was also quoted in the Chronicle package in May talking about wanting to move — says that "The weed selling is the least of the problems" in the area. And an employee at World of Stereo, which sits near the corner of Jones Street, directly next door to the two shuttered stores, says that the weed dealers have just moved a couple doors down and are using the tops of their speakers on the sidewalk to set up scales to weigh the drugs.
As the Chronicle's Carl Nolte wrote about in August, Young spoke at a community meeting this summer about the "zombie-like" heroin and/or fentanyl users collapsed along the nearby alleyways, saying, "It’s at a crisis point, I’ve never seen it this bad."
Now, as the Examiner reports, Supervisor Haney is proposing a "street-level drug dealing task force" to address the problem. But of course this sounds like it will move with typical San Francisco bureaucratic listlessness — the task force is being tasked with issuing quarterly reports to the Board of Supervisors, with recommendations for steps to take, the first of which isn't due until March 31, 2020. And to be clear, the city already has a Methamphetamine Task Force — have you seen the evidence of their good works yet?
Federal authorities are moving somewhat faster, with a new U.S. Attorney in SF that just launched a large-scale crackdown on gang-related drug dealing and sex-trafficking across the Tenderloin. That announcement came with the arrests of 32 suspects, mostly Honduran nationals, who are believed to be part of a drug ring based in East Bay that brought dealers to the Tenderloin daily by carpool.
Change is coming to the area, albeit extraordinarily slowly. The Proper Hotel and the new Yotel across the street, both at the intersection of Seventh and Market, are bringing new tourist foot traffic to the area. Huge new developments are happening down the block, and between Fifth and Sixth, that are going to transform those blocks as well.
But clearly for Mr. Smith's, 15 years was too long to wait for this stuff.