My dear mother does her grocery shopping in San Francisco’s Chinatown, even though she lives at least a 40-minute bus ride away. There’s plenty of grocery store in and around our neighborhood, but she still prefers to shop at that wonderful tourist trap. The reason is very simple: food items are marginally cheaper in Chinatown, and my mom being the person that she is, can’t let any modicum of savings be forsaken.
Never mind the lost opportunity cost in the nearly two-hour commute to and from Chinatown. The generation of my mother’s doesn’t view time as we do: they can’t fathom paying extra for convenience. They rather circle for a half hour looking for free street parking than paying the few dollars to park in a garage. Granted that’s how my family were able to save money despite our meager backgrounds, but those habits never did go away even as our family collectively have climbed into the middle class.
Anyways, lately my mother has started to notice a lot of the shops in Chinatown that have been around for decades are closing up their doors. Stores she has known since we immigrated to the States back in 96 are shuttering down business. Chinatown is never lack for foot traffic, so my mother was confused as to why this was happening.
I told her the reason is the rent is too damn high. San Francisco is notorious for its super high residential real estate costs, and it’s only logical that same pricing pressure is effecting the commercial space as well. I’ve seen and read about it: old and sacred institutions that have operated in the city for decades are forced to close up shop because their respective landlords decided to cash-in on the frenzy.
I exactly don’t blame property owners for wanting to maximize their earnings, but indeed the consequence of that is a lot of what once made up the flavor of a particular neighborhood – what attracts people to live there – is and will be gone. What’s left will be artisan food shops that sell those famous avocado toasts for twenty dollars, or high-end grocery stores where (organic) apples costs ten dollars per pound. In a city that only rich people can afford to live, with minimum wage amongst the highest in the nation, the cost of living will naturally increase to a commensurate point.
Those grocery shops in Chinatown cannot simply raise prices to compensate for the increases in rent, because then people like my mother (and there are many of them) will no longer shop there. It’s a catch 22 where ultimately the solution is to shut down business, which is quite sad indeed. I genuinely don’t know and afraid of what San Francisco will look like in a few years if this housing issue of our time isn’t remedied.