Commentary – Marjan Philhour

Merchant group growing

by Marjan Philhour


Balbooa2017 copy

 Marjan Philhour, president of the Balboa Village Merchants Association (center) with
participants in the annual Balbooa Frightfest on outer Balboa Street. Courtesy photo.


I remember Halloween 2014 – I walked down a deserted Balboa Street past 37th Avenue

with my husband, kids and some of our friends and was struck with the realization that,

despite being a neighborhood with numerous schools and countless families, our options

for Halloween festivities were lacking. It was a “ghost town” that evening, and it wasn’t



In the past we had driven to other San Francisco neighborhoods known for its

“good trick-or-treating,” or visited friends in the suburbs where neighborhood

Halloween gatherings were the norm – why wasn’t there an option for us around

our house?


Later that fall, I began talking to local merchants about putting together a

Halloween festival, something the whole family could enjoy without having to

leave the Outer Richmond. They liked the idea; not only would it be good for

the community, but it would also be great for business.


With the help of a some committed neighbors and store owners, we went

from merchant to merchant signing up businesses for the festival and a trick-ortreat

scavenger hunt. We held our first planning meeting in March, 2015 and shortly

thereafter announced the first annual Balbooa Frightfest (a name creatively

thought up by one of our merchants), to take place on Halloween, 2015.


Here we are, three years later, having just celebrated the third Balbooa

Frightfest, which was bigger and better than ever. We partnered this year with St.

Thomas the Apostle School, Lafayette Elementary School, Full Life Christian

Center, Richmond District Neighborhood Center and more than 25 local merchant

and neighborhood organizations. In addition to games and prizes, we

were proud to feature tables from local organizations and groups, including a

cookie making table sponsored by SF Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a fire truck

from the SF Fire Department and circus workshops by the SF Circus Center.


Local merchants also reported a significant increase in foot traffic that day,

which is great for business.


The continued success of the Balbooa Frightfest can be traced back to that first

merchant meeting in 2015. While many business owners knew each other, there

was no official merchant association or organization. The first Frightfest showed

us what we could accomplish for our neighborhood. There was a desire to

build on our initial success as we enjoyed working together and sharing a strong

commitment to our neighborhood.


Finally, in January, 2016, we held the first official meeting of the Balboa Village

Merchants Association.


Since then, we’ve grown from 10 to more than 40 merchants and sponsored a

number of projects focused on building community in the Outer Richmond. For

our current members, we offer social media and online advertising training for

their businesses and we maintain active social media accounts promoting our

business corridor. We also host neighborhood tours, community fundraisers and

organize evenings that offer discounts at stores and restaurants in order to

attract business.


In 2018, we will launch our paid membership program to provide more benefits

for our merchant members to help their businesses thrive and connect with more

neighbors in this community and beyond.


We hear the phrase “shop local” a lot, but it’s important to understand how critical

keeping our dollars in the local economy is to our collective success. Research

has shown that locally owned businesses reinvest in the local economy at a 60 percent

higher rate than chain and Internet retailers.


Also, if we as San Franciscans shifted 10 percent of where we did our shopping from

online to local retailers, we could create 1,300 new jobs annually and generate more than

$200 million that could potentially stay in our communities.


The Balboa Village Merchants Association will continue to grow and try

new promotions, sponsor events and support local merchant campaigns to improve

the vibrancy of the Balboa Village corridor.


In a time where Amazon and other Internet retailers are continuing to expand,

it’s even more important that we adapt, evolve and organize to strengthen

our merchant corridor and attract new customers while maintaining the character

that has made the outer Balboa Street corridor what it is today.


We care about keeping families and hard-working people, who keep our local economy

running, in the Richmond. Strengthening that connection between local businesses and

neighbors will ensure that generations to come will enjoy what makes the Outer

Richmond so special.


We would love to hear your thoughts on improving and supporting our local

merchant corridor. You can reach us on Facebook and Instagram (@BalboaVillageSF) or

through our website at


Marjan Philhour is the president of the Balboa Village Merchants Association. To

contact the merchant group, send an email to



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s