SMBX lets residents invest in local shops / Preston sees potential in vacant units

It's Wednesday, March 17th.

Good evening, San Francisco. 

If you wanted to invest money into your neighborhood, how would you actually do it? Sure, you could shop at local stores. That helps. 

But yesterday I spoke to a former colleague of mine, Ben Stein, whose company, SMBX, wants to take that idea of “investing into your neighborhood” a few steps further. 

Here’s how it works. 

Let’s say an ice cream shop wants to expand and open up another storefront but needs some capital to do so. Instead of getting a traditional bank loan, that ice cream shop could create a listing on SMBX that specifies how much it's trying to raise—let’s call it $350k. Investors (aka neighborhood folks or whoever, really) can then offer up money to help the ice cream shop reach its goal. Over time, the business pays that investor back with interest, let’s call it 8%. 

So, assuming all goes well, not only can the investor help the ice cream shop open its new location, but they can also make an 8% profit on the original money they put down. 

And actually, this scenario isn’t hypothetical at all. Local ice cream company Humphry Slocombe is raising $350k at an 8% rate on SMBX right now to help it open a new location on the Peninsula later this year. It’s already raised over $250,000. 

“Our goal is to build a new financial system that can give people power over their money so they can control what type of world their money is being used to create,” Stein said. 

Pretty cool. 

I also liked that Stein said some businesses said the program (SMBX calls it issuing “bonds”) has actually helped retain customers and gotten them back in the door more often. 

“If you think, ‘Where am I going to get pizza tonight?’ It’s probably going to be the place that just paid me back $20,” Stein said. 

A nice, virtuous cycle. 

Right now, a lot of the investment opportunities are Bay Area-based, given that SMBX started in San Francisco. Here’s a complete list

And with that.. Onto some news for the day: 

Supervisor Dean Preston said at Tuesday’s board meeting that vacant units across the city are exacerbating San Francisco’s housing issues. “Tens of thousands of units... sit vacant. How do we activate them?” Preston asked, adding that he thought the city was mostly ignoring “the single biggest source of potential housing.” 

On Twitter, he called residential vacancies the “elephant in the housing policy room.” 

Preston called on the board to address the topic in May. In what was perhaps a foreshadowing of his solution, Preston referenced a 2017 tax passed in Vancouver on units not occupied for most of the year. Reportedly, Vancouver’s vacancies have declined each year since. 

“With the right policies, we can activate 5,000 units pretty much immediately,” Preston said.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to push forward a plan to “modernize” the SFMTA bus yard in the Mission that will include upwards of 575 new housing units on top of the updated facility. At least 50% of those units will be affordable housing. 

Also on Tuesday, the board voted 10-1 to approve construction for the Parcel F project, a downtown highrise that will be the fourth tallest building in the city when completed. Parcel F will include 325,000 square feet of office space, 165 condos, and 189 hotel rooms. 

“We are focused. We are committed,” Parcel F’s developer said. “It will be a wonderful addition to the city.”

San Francisco has ended up with a $125 million surplus this fiscal year thanks, in part, to higher than expected revenue from property taxes. On Wednesday, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Matt Haney, who leads the budget committee, announced how they’d like to spend the money. 

Here’s the high-level breakdown: 

  • $53 million to help small businesses 

  • $24.1 million to support the arts 

  • $20.1 million to rent relief and housing 

  • $17.7 million to summer programs for students 

  • $2 million to help undocumented families 

  • $1.6 million to combat drug overdoses

“It is crucial that the surplus funds be put directly into the pockets of our residents and small businesses that are suffering, and address our most urgent priorities for recovery,” Haney said. 

The Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposal next Tuesday. 

Quick bits: 

  • 🚗🚗 Traffic is coming back! According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, traffic in early March across the Bay Area’s seven bridges was almost 85% of what it was last year. (NBC)

  • 🐶 Data from the American Kennel Club says that the French bulldog is the most popular dog breed in San Francisco. The next most popular are Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, and then Pembroke Welsh corgis. (Chronicle

  • 🥖 I haven’t been to Palm City Wines for its sandwiches—errr, fine, “hoagies”—but I hear they’re really good. Here’s the story behind the Pacifica bakery making Palm City’s hoagie rolls, Rosalind Bakery, which (fun fact) also supplies the bread for Dad’s Luncheonette (my favorite burger around, I think). (The Six Fifty

And finally… This North Beach couple has been putting on live musical performances from their apartment kitchen every night since the shelter-in-place mandate started last year. Tonight will be their 365th straight show. 

Datebook reporter Andrew Gilbert described the couple’s music as “virtuosic guitar interplay and vocals redolent of Tin Pan Alley, circa 1925.” 

Gilbert writes that “the repertoire includes instrumentals and songs, often introduced with an obscure verse gleaned from vintage records or sheet music. They don’t rehearse beforehand or work out arrangements, largely shaping the tunes on the fly. Each show is a daunting feat that emerges from their daily lives.”

Meredith Axelrod, one of the performers, described the roughly 100 people who tune-in each night “like a little village of people.” 

“I was anticipating mean comments when we started,” she said. “I’ve been very shocked that people have been so nice.”

You can watch the one-year anniversary show tonight at 8 pm on their Facebook page here

That’s all for today! Speaking of “villages,” it takes a village to help build a local newsletter. Shoutout to my friend’s Dylan and Miles who helped me troubleshoot some technical issues I was having today with the website and my email. You guys are the best 😊 

Also, put that troubleshooting to the test and email me at after you tell three friends about The SF Minute. Friday is the last day to let me know. And then early next week, I’ll announce the three lucky winners who will receive a fresh, new bucket and gloves to help clean up their neighborhoods. 

Alright, talk soon! - Nick B.

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