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Is Richmond County San Francisco’s Beloved Ice Cream Shop Evacuated?

The 63-year-old community’s favorite ice cream parlor is at risk of eviction. Owners of Joe’s Ice Cream in San Francisco’s Richmond area say they could lose their buildings to developers, in a struggle that has become familiar to many small business owners as the housing crisis has fueled demand for new homes.

Sean and Alice Kim discovered the building was for sale when a surveyor showed up one day in August measuring and photographing the property. They were meeting with a reporter to discuss installing a news shelf for the community newspaper.

“If my husband hadn’t been here on the day of the survey, we probably still wouldn’t know,” Alice Kim said. “And if he doesn’t do something on Google, we’ll know nothing.”

Owners Alice and Sean Kim at Joe’s Ice Cream in San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge / KQED)

After searching online, they learned that their building had been on the market for months, with a potential buyer already in a row.

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Joe’s Ice Cream has been open since 1959; The Kims became owners in 2012. Joe is considered by many in the Richmond area to be a beloved community center, including the old owner, who loved the place enough to offer the Kim family a long-term lease. Although there are seven years left on this lease, it is unclear whether the new owner is obligated to honor the agreement.

As a registered legacy corporation, Joe’s is eligible for grants, marketing assistance, and business support from the city, but is not protected from legal demolition by a property owner, according to the San Francisco Department of Planning.

A plaque indicating that Joe's Ice Cream is an old business
An old commercial plaque hangs on the wall outside Joe’s Ice Cream in the Richmond area of ​​San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge / KQED)

A representative from the Planning Department said the agency had been contacted by San Francisco-based architecture firm Kerman Morris Architects, which was representing a buyer, and that they had discussed three plans to redevelop the space into housing. They detailed a three- to four-story mixed-use apartment building with commercial space on the ground floor. There’s no official proposal on the table yet, and it’s not clear if the commercial space could or would be occupied by Joe’s. The architecture firm declined to comment, saying its client does not yet own the building.

Sean and Alice Kim are now exploring the possibilities of their business future. Connie Chan, District One Supervisor, said she was “working with them to help make their choices and ensure that the old neighborhood businesses in Richmond can continue to thrive.”

With the city’s help, Kim said their number one priority is to see if they can buy the building themselves and avoid an expensive move. They are working with the San Francisco Bureau of Small Business to approve a potential loan to present their own offer to the owner within a few weeks. The Small Business Bureau also hooks them up with a lawyer to review the terms of the lease and provide legal advice.

Community members provided voice assistance to the ice cream parlor owners, and a neighbor even suggested their vacant property as a temporary location.

A man holding a little boy choosing an ice cream flavor
Stan holds his son Brady, 4, when they decide on the flavor of their ice cream at Joe’s Ice Cream. (Beth LaBerge / KQED)

However, many residents also welcome the idea of ​​new apartments, even if Joe has to move. The acute shortage of affordable Bay Area homes has led to a surge in demand for more housing from renters and lawmakers alike, as the crisis has driven many long-term residents out of the city. One of Joe’s clients named Paul said that the people of the Richmond area are attached to the old business, but the dire need for housing cannot be ignored.

“The building has been sold, and someone else is going to come in, and they might want to make housing,” Paul said. They probably don’t want to have this establishment, so it would be bad if they were [Joe’s] We’re not here anymore, but I definitely understand that’s kind of the way it works.”