SF legacy business Joe’s Ice Cream at risk of demolition


Joe’s Ice Cream has been a San Francisco mainstay for the past 63 years, but the owners of the historic shop aren’t sure about its future after discovering that the building may be developed for housing.  

Owners Sean and Alice Kim told SFGATE they were unaware of any development plans until late August, when property surveyors spent hours taking measurements of the building at 5420 Geary Blvd. The Kims found the property surveyors’ visit strange and decided to Google their business address later that day.

They found a June post by the nonprofit housing advocacy group SF YIMBY, an acronym for “yes in my backyard,” detailing preliminary plans submitted to the city for a mixed-use building. For the Kims, what stood out most was the last line: “Demolition will be required for the existing single-story commercial structure.”

“I was very shocked and frustrated because if demolition of the building is required, then there is no future for us,” Alice said. “It has been very hard to manage all the stress.”

A planning application was submitted in April that indicated the demolition of 5420-5424 Geary Blvd. would be needed to make way for a nine- to 18-unit structure. Plans were submitted less than a month later. In addition to Joe’s Ice Cream, neighboring business Cards and Comics Central would be affected if plans move forth. SFGATE reached out to the retail store for comment but did not hear back by publication.

The Kims told the Richmond Review earlier this month that they knew the property had been listed for sale in February, but they told SFGATE that they didn’t believe the sale’s outcome would result in new development plans.

“Nobody told us about this submitted developer application,” Sean said. “They did a major survey [of the property], which means they’re really serious and they have intentions planned … so that’s why we are really scared.”

Another major concern for the couple is that they aren’t sure if they will be allowed to complete their lease term, which ends in 2029, as they worry about possibly being evicted. Joe’s Ice Cream, which first opened in 1959, became a legacy business in San Francisco in 2017. While the legacy program can offer some legal assistance and rent stabilization grants, it’s harder to support small businesses in situations where demolition is a risk.

San Francisco’s Office of Small Business, which runs the legacy program, confirmed that it is working with Joe’s Ice Cream to offer guidance and has connected them to the nonprofit organization Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to help provide legal advice. Joe’s Ice Cream and Cards and Comics Central have also applied for an SBA loan in hopes that they can persuade their landlord to sell them the building instead, the Kims said.

“Hopefully we’ll get the pre-qualification letter from the lender and then we can tell the landlord we are ready to purchase the building,” Sean said. “I don’t know if this is possible, but I hope he can sell it to us.”

SFGATE reached out to Gaetani Real Estate, the property management group that owns the building, but did not hear back before publication.


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