By Thomas K. Pendergast
Since 1959, Joe’s Ice Cream has served generations of customers on Geary Boulevard in the Richmond District, but now it may get scooped up by market forces, along with its neighbor business, Cards And Comics Central.
The property they are renting is in the process of being sold and the San Francisco Planning Department confirms that a meeting was held between them and architects for the buyer to discuss future development, although no formal proposal has been submitted yet.
The architects did, however, submit three possible scenarios involving a mixed-use building 40- or 50-feet tall with several stories of residential units over a ground floor commercial space.
The first plan would be a nine-unit building of three stories. The second might be 12 units of about the same height, while the third could be 18 units in four stories. All three scenarios require demolition of the existing buildings, according to documents filed with the department.
An email from the department’s Chief of Staff Daniel A. Sider said they had a Project Review Meeting with the architects for the buyer, Kieran Woods.
“In the most general term, these meetings are 45-minute-long opportunities for a developer or property owner to discuss early-stage proposals (or even ideas) with our staff,” Sider said. “They generally cover big-picture land use, design and process issues.
“Sometimes these meeting are suggestive of the imminent filing of a development application; other times they are only informational and lead to no proposal at all.
“At this point, we haven’t received any development applications for the property whatsoever. Without a project on file, we can’t begin to estimate any kind of timeline,” he said.
Phone calls and emails seeking comment from Woods were not returned by press time.
The current owners of Joe’s Ice Cream are Sean and Alice Kim. They have been running it since 2012 and say they are the fourth owners to operate it since it opened.
The City’s Office of Small Business has confirmed that Joe’s Ice Cream is on the registry of legacy businesses.
While there are many advantages and perks to being on that registry, protection from demolition is not one of them.
The Kims moved from Novato to the City in 2013. They have three children. The oldest is a daughter, 20 years old, their son is 16 and the younger daughter is 14.
“We really like this neighborhood,” Sean said. “So, we decided to come closer to Joe’s and all three kids go to neighborhood schools.”
When they first started this business, their children were 9, 5 and 3 years old, Alice told her story as she sat in the office behind the public area of the establishment.
“This office is where they grew up, because I was working full time in front and we just took over this business, just moved to the new neighborhood,” she said. “But it was really a blessing that I could have the kids all in the back office and raise them together, and then we got a lot of help from this community.”
“Just as soon as they were in high school, they started to work here,” Sean added.
They first heard the building was put on the market last February. At the time, the pandemic was still going on, so they just focused on the business. Then he saw the next-door neighbor’s building was on the market.
They knew something was up when the property was surveyed recently.
Then they went on the Planning Department’s web site and saw the documents that the architects presented at the meeting.
“We’re still in shock and frustrated because we just didn’t know,” Alice said.
Though they still have seven years left on their lease, they are scared that maybe they can be kicked out before the terms of the lease expire.
They took a look at the lease but could find nothing specific in it regarding a situation like this. They are planning to have an attorney review the lease.
While they might have some time, if they have to find a new place, it might not have the infrastructure they need.
“We have the grill and then we have a walk-in freezer, walk-in refrigerator, we have an ice cream room (which) means we have to build out so probably we’ll spend a lot of money for building out those facilities. So, it is a big impact,” Sean said. “And then we cannot sell the business in this condition.”
“Now we are, emotionally, a little better. But at first, we were really depressed because even though we have seven years, in seven years you are done and then we lose our spirit,” he said.
Meanwhile, their neighbor, Herbert Gin, said he has only a little more than a year left on the lease for his business Cards And Comics Central.
He has had his business in this neighborhood for 32 years.
“If they were to shut it down completely, to just find something comparable, it’s like almost starting all over again,” Gin said. “I would probably have to buy a smaller building, but the thing is, financially it’s going to hurt me pretty badly for the time being.”
He has the option of selling online only. He did that during the pandemic. But now that he has opened up again, he has to deal with thieves and shoplifters, so he has an employee meet people at the door and then leave the customer there and go into the store to get their orders.
He needs to redesign his store to make it more difficult for shoplifters but now that he’s uncertain of what the landlord’s plan is, he doesn’t want to invest more money in remodeling his store until he knows what is exactly happening with the building.
“My worry is that they might evict me and I don’t know what they’re planning to do. Or, raise the rent significantly higher just to get me out,” he said.
The shoplifting, he said, got “out of control because we have things on the wall that are like $1,000 or $2,000. It’s worth it for them. I’m not just dealing a package of toilet paper.”
When told of the possible demolition, several customers expressed their sadness and concern.
Alex Dippery grew up in the neighborhood. He used to buy comic books at Cards And Comics Central when he was a kid and eat at Joe’s Ice Cream.
“Whenever I come home from college, this is one of the only restaurants in SF that I always make sure to come to. So, for me it’s kind of a staple of the Richmond. It definitely feels like a part of what I knew growing up,” Dippery said. “It feels like it’s been here forever. I think everyone who lives around here knows Joe’s. Most people would not be very happy with that idea.”
“It would be a bummer,” Alexi Estrella said. “We’ve been in the avenues for 20 years now and we always support local businesses. And it’s been tough, especially through the pandemic, seeing places, restaurants that we used to go to that didn’t survive it.
“And so, to hear that Joe’s did thrive and survived the pandemic, and the building being demolished is the reason why it may go away is just sad news.”
The City’s Office of Small Business released this statement:
“Joe’s Ice Cream is the oldest independent ice cream parlor in the Richmond District and brings not only delicious ice cream but also 1960’s nostalgia in our modern world. Our office is working with the owner of Joe’s Ice Cream to understand the possibilities under a variety of scenarios and hope for a positive outcome so that the community can continue to benefit from this legacy business.”
“Everybody knows Joe’s,” Rob Ross said. “Everybody loves Joe’s. I think there would be a huge uproar. There will be a huge outcry, a lot of people would be really upset.
“Joe’s is great because it’s a neighborhood ice cream shop. It’s not kind of a fancy tech; it’s where you feel at home. It’s where everybody feels at home.”
Categories: Small Businesses
Growing up two blocks away from this ice cream parlor, I associate Joe’s Ice Cream shop with some of my best memories during the late 1950s/60s in the Richmond District. This was the place to get a cone with a couple of scoops of your favorite flavor. I especially remember the Joe’s Special – a hamburger, chips and shake for less than a dollar. I vividly remember my mom purchasing a quart of ice cream then hurrying home to make room in the tiny freezer (a little metal box about 12″x12″x8″) of our refrigerator. That night our family enjoyed Joe’s great ice cream!
Jesse from Toy Boat.
My heart goes out to them.