San Francisco Moves To Preserve Legacy Businesses. Should Dallas?

El Padrino #1 in Oak Cliff
El Padrino #1 in Oak Cliff
Scott Reitz

Back in May we published a feature devoted to Dallas' old dive bars. The story was prompted by a blog post I wrote after having a conversation with a friend about the closure of Club Schmitz. My friend and I were united in our love for bars with quirks, history and dirty glassware — but mostly the quirks and history. Cheap beer didn't hurt.

But progress and gentrification are constants in any living city, and as investors and developers target affordable neighborhoods, small businesses will continue to get pinched. Dallas has a reputation for razing anything for the opportunity to build something, especially if that new something can be illuminated with rainbow colored lights or collect a toll. If that habit is left unchecked, a future Dallas will be nothing but six-lane highways and Romano's Macaroni Grills.

To be fair, most cities in America pander to the gods of gentrification, but San Fransisco is making news by proposing a different approach, and I can't help but to wonder how Dallas would change over the coming decades if this city adopted a similar strategy.

In March, San Francisco started a legacy business registry, which compiled businesses with more than 30 years tenure in the city. Now, it's considering legislation to subsidize a limited number of those businesses, as luxury condominiums and other development projects sprout from the concrete around them. The proposal would give landlords incentives to sign long-term leases, or pay subsidies directly to a limited number of legacy business owners, hopefully protecting these historic businesses from being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Could something like this work in Dallas, and possibly save the old diners, bars and Mexican restaurants that dot our transitioning and ethnic neighborhoods? In light of the Joule debacle downtown, which traded historic structures with more than a century of history for luxury shopping, preservation will be a constant battle in Dallas. Still, Paris and Rome have enacted measures to protect historic businesses. And now San Francisco has become the first city in the U.S. to consider protective legislation.

If an East Dallas dive doesn't spur the same sense of nostalgia that some of these centuries-old businesses in other cities warrant, you should remember that Dallas will only have centuries-old things worth keeping if they're saved when they're only decades old in the first place.

It's not just dive bars.Taquerias and quinceañera dress shops that line Jefferson Boulevard likely won't be there in 20 years unless protections are put into place. Same goes for the local businesses that are under pressure from developers  along Zang Boulevard. Is it worth trying to keep these places around here in Dallas? These are questions to ponder over the holiday weekend, or you can just use them as an excuse to get a cheap beer and a taco while you still can.


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