No Love Lost Between Castro Merchants and Super Bowl

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Saturday February 13, 2016
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The Super Bowl 50 halftime show ended with the crowd at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara turning over placards that spelled out "Believe in Love" in rainbow-colored hues. The surprise message, to many, signaled support by headlining band Coldplay for marriage equality.

Yet there was little for many merchants in San Francisco's gay Castro district to love about the city playing host to the annual football championship game. Because transit officials stopped running the historic trolley cars on the F-Line route's upper Market Street section due to Super Bowl City taking over the tracks near the Embarcadero, few tourists bothered to jump on the replacement buses headed to the gayborhood.

"I have spoken to more than a dozen businesses. They all said there was no spike in business from the Super Bowl," said Daniel Bergerac, president of the Castro Merchants. "Most said their business was down. It really took a bite out of this community."

The business association had hoped a special advertising campaign and a series of bar events and other promotions would offset the loss of the F-Line and score them some Super Bowl business. Banners at three downtown BART stations encouraged visitors to ditch the seals at Fisherman's Wharf and instead check out the Castro's "bears," i.e. hirsute men.

Placards in buses promoted the Castro as having "One-of-a-kind stores: We've got it in the bag" and "Where the Bay Area goes to get its party on."

Yet those efforts appear to have had little impact, with many merchants saying that daytime business was particularly dead due to the mothballing of the iconic trolley cars, which began on January 23.

"There was no love gained. If we had the F-Line and tourists coming up here, we might have had love for the Super Bowl," said Bergerac, a co-owner of Mudpuppy's Tub and Scrub on Castro Street.

The pain continued through this week, as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency did not expect to have the F-Line trolleys rolling again to the Castro until this Sunday, February 14, as the Super Bowl City structures were not expected to be cleared out until Friday.

"It has had serious negative impact on business. Our sales have been down since the F-Line went down," said Terry Asten Bennett, whose family owns Cliff's Variety on Castro Street, during the merchant group's meeting last week.

Monday Bennett told the Bay Area Reporter that shoppers remained sparse in the store.

"Business continued to be down the rest of the weekend," she said.

Even the owners of Hi Tops, the gay sports bar on upper Market Street that brought in gay football player Michael Sam for its Friday happy hour last week, doubted they saw any difference in sales due to the Super Bowl being in town.

"It felt like a usual Super Bowl, though we probably had a few more out-of-towners than usual," said co-owner Jesse class=st>Woodward. "Sunday we were packed all day and everybody loved the halftime show most of all. But it didn't bring any extra business."

One of the few businesses to say it did benefit from the Super Bowl was Beck's Motor Lodge. The Market Street motel, which was 98 percent booked last weekend, was able to raise its rates due to the increased demand as people unable to secure a room downtown looked to outlying neighborhoods.

"Friday and Sunday were extremely strong. Sunday in winter is pretty dead typically for us, so that was very nice to see. I have to attribute that to the Super Bowl festivities," said Brittney Beck , whose grandfather built the lodging in 1958. "Typically, November through mid-May is the slow period for us. It is why we do construction this time of year. It is a softer time of the year and there just aren't that many people because people travel in the summertime."

And in fact, the weekend prior to the Super Bowl, business was softer than normal, said Beck.

"I am not going to blame that on the F-Line being down because we have a parking lot," she said.

At the nearby Willows Inn on 14th Street near Church, innkeeper JoJo DeRodrigo said business over the Super Bowl weekend "was kind of a toss up," as they did see a few sports fans in town for the game but also people from around northern California, likely due to the unseasonably warm weather.

"Compared to last year it was one of our busiest weekends in February," said DeRodrigo.

The one lesson the Castro merchants learned is just how important the F-Line is for many of the neighborhood businesses. And should the Super Bowl return to the region, as organizers are already predicting, Bergerac promised there would be a full-court press to ensure the historic trolleys remain running next time.

"I think we have a new appreciation for the F-Line," he said. "We knew it had an effect on business. I don't think we realized how much we really appreciated it. There are certain things that make San Francisco very unique, and I think the F-Line is a huge one."

Those Castro merchants who lost money due to the Super Bowl may be able to recoup some of their losses should a proposal from District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin be adopted. On Tuesday he, and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim , introduced a supplemental appropriation that would set aside an initial $100,000 from the city's budget reserves to defray the financial losses incurred by small businesses as a result of Super Bowl 50.

Asked by the B.A.R. if Castro merchants could apply, Peskin's office said the criteria for applying for the fiscal relief would be fleshed out in the legislative process. Peskin's intent with the fund is to help small businesses, noted his office, "that can demonstratively prove their revenues were less during the three weeks in question than in previous years."

A Hail Mary Pass for the Homeless

Businesses weren't the only ones complaining. Homeless advocates railed against city leaders for spending $5 million to host the weeklong party.

The gay-owned Virgil's Sea Room in the Mission decided to turn the dispute into an advantage. It announced it would donate a portion of bar sales Sunday to the Coalition on Homelessness and was able to raise $250.

"The Super Bowl left a sour taste in a lot of San Franciscans' mouths," said bar co-owner Tom Temprano , a gay man and local party promoter. "As a business, we felt if we were doing anything around the Super Bowl we should use it to help homeless people get access to services and help get a roof over their heads."

On Tuesday gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener called for any revenues generated by Super Bowl 50, such as an increase in hotel taxes, to fund solutions to house those people living in tents on city streets as well as to clean the areas impacted by tent encampments.

"A city that truly cares about its residents won't allow them to live in tents on our streets," stated Wiener, who was heavily criticized by homeless advocates for a letter he sent to various city agencies asking what they were doing to house the people in the tents and not allow them to remain on the streets. "We can take a great step forward in transitioning people off of our streets by directing the revenues from the Super Bowl to help address this problem."

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