Anonymous donor to pick up tab for Polk Street businesses’ outdoor barricades

With outdoor dining becoming a mainstay of the COVID-19 era, the city’s Shared Spaces Program has been busily awarding small businesses the right to set up tables on city sidewalks, parking spots and plazas. 

But the new territory comes at a cost. The businesses, already cash-strapped from long closures, are on the hook for the barricades needed to protect their diners from cars and sidewalk passerby. 

The exception: Polk Street, where an anonymous donor recently stepped up to cover the cost of barricades for all the businesses in the Discover Polk Community Benefit District

The free rental barricades will save businesses $200 or more per month, says the CBD’s co-executive director, Ben Bleiman.

“[It was] quite a substantial sum,” said Bleiman, who co-owns Polk-area bars Tonic and Soda Popinski’s and cannabis dispensary California Street Cannabis. “[It] will cover hundreds of feet of barriers for months.”

The donor will cover barricades for small businesses in the Discover Polk CBD’s service territory (pictured above). | Map: Discover Polk

The donor declined to speak to a reporter, even under the condition of anonymity. But CBD board chair Suzanne Markel-Fox says that they are an area homeowner who wants to support local businesses. 

Bleiman says the extra space is a game-changer for small businesses in the CBD’s service area. With the cost of barricades covered, he’s hoping to encourage not just restaurants and bars, but other small businesses — like bookstores and retailers — to take advantage of Shared Spaces.

Applications are simple, and take only two to three business days to turn around, he said. Any Discover Polk-area business interested in the free barriers can email Bleiman for more information. 

Bleiman notes that businesses serving alcohol outdoors must also apply with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which began accepting applications for outdoor drinking last week.

While the city has delayed this week’s planned reopening of outdoor bars, the applications are working well for restaurants, with a promised turnaround time of just one business day. 

Photo: Discover Polk/Facebook

Discover Polk is one of San Francisco’s newest community benefit districts — it launched in late 2018. Like the city’s 17 other CBDs, it levies an additional tax on property owners to fund initiatives like intensive street cleaning, trash pick-up, event planning and outreach. 

Bleiman and his Tonic/Soda Popinski’s business partner, Duncan Ley, took over as executive directors of the CBD in February. So far, members “have been really impressed by the energy Ben and Duncan have injected into the CBD,” Markel-Fox said. 

In addition to the free barriers, the CBD is at work on a “Discover Polk Delivers” program. Inspired by a similar effort in North Beach, the program will recruit volunteers to deliver goods to area residents, from a rotating cast of Discover Polk restaurants and retailers.

The free delivery — for both businesses and customers — saves hundreds of dollars in delivery fees on either end, while promoting neighborhood spending. The North Beach program has contributed as much as $2,000-$4,000 in one night to its featured businesses.

The Discover Polk program will launch on July 17, with delivery from neighborhood bar-restaurant The Bell Tower (1900 Polk St.)

“We’re going to volunteer to do the deliveries ourselves,” Bleiman said. “This is exactly what a CBD should be doing.”

The Bell Tower will be the inaugural participant in the CBD’s free delivery program. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

In addition to the delivery program, Markel-Fox said that the CBD is currently looking for volunteers to work on issues like streetscape improvements, business recruitment and retention, and safe and clean streets.

The CBD isn’t just for property owners — area renters are also encouraged to participate.

“There are renters who have been here for 40 years, and property owners who only got here two years ago,” Markel-Fox said. “It’s important for us to hear perspectives from both.”

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