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[Preservation Tips & Tools] How to Save Historic Food Establishments


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When an old neighborhood restaurant closes for good, it can be not only shocking, but disheartening as well. Waves of rising rents, homogenization, and the inability to find an adequate owner are just some of the factors that cause establishments that have been around for generations to shutter.

This toolkit explores some of the ways within your power to help keep your favorite historic food establishments -- from restaurants and cafés, to bakeries and markets -- in business.

Published in: Food
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[Preservation Tips & Tools] How to Save Historic Food Establishments

  2. 2. Patrons can …
  3. 3. Think before you eat. Spend money at establishments that are rich in history and tradition, rather than franchises, since it ensures the money will not only stay within the community, but also help keep a unique (and delicious) part of history alive.
  4. 4. Example: San Francisco Heritage Having trouble finding historic restaurants in your area? Check with local preservation groups. For example, last year, San Francisco Heritage launched their ‘Legacy Bars and Restaurants’ program that includes over 130 of the city’s historic places to eat and drink. This type of program aggregates historic dining establishments, helping connect them to new consumers.
  5. 5. Talk to the owner. Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation with staff to see if the owner is around to chat. A conversation could be a good opportunity to learn how the business is faring and if it needs any help.
  6. 6. Support the establishment’s initiatives. Establishments not covered by rent-control laws might face prohibitive rent hikes that make it difficult, if not impossible, to remain open. In these cases, see if the managers have started a petition that customers can sign asking the landlord for rent concessions or negations.
  7. 7. Example: Pino Prime Meat Market In 2013, the Pino Prime Meat Market in Downtown New York City faced a rent increase so high that it would have forced the business to close. The owners began a petition to stay in business and received over a thousand signatures, which helped sway the landlord to let them renew their least for the next five years.
  8. 8. Management can …
  9. 9. Support proactive legislation and encourage patrons to do the same. Laws aimed at protecting small businesses have been introduced in some jurisdictions, but are often undermined by corporate interests. If such legislation has been introduced in your community, write the sponsor a letter of support and encourage patrons of your business to voice support as well.
  10. 10. Consider purchasing your building. If financially feasible, consider buying out your landlord. It can make more financial sense to buy your space outright, and it ensures that a landlord will not be able to take advantage of you again.
  11. 11. Ensure quality and efficiency. Maintaining the level of service and quality that regular customers expect from your business is crucial to making sure they return. Handling maintenance issues in a timely fashion will also help keep the situation manageable.
  12. 12. Team up with other historic businesses. See if there are any historic or independent business associations in your area. These networks bring together businesses that share an overarching vision for their communities and an appreciation for history. They can also help equip owners with tools to stimulate growth, visibility, and partnerships.
  13. 13. Use free city services. Some cities have specialized programs to help small or historic business owners. Services are often low-cost or free, and can help connect your business to a skilled workforce as well as identify incentive programs that can save you money.
  14. 14. The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same in their own communities. For more information, visit Special thanks to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for the reference documents and Karen Loew for consultation. Photo courtesy: [pgs. 1, 3 & 4] Wally Gobetz; Flickr; Yuichi Sakuraba, Flickr; Mack Male, Flickr; Thomas Hawk, Flickr; Shelly in Real Life, Flickr; Steel Wool, Flickr; San Francisco Public Library, Flickr.