If You Build It, Will They Come?

By C.W. Nevius
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) An interesting look at some of the entrepreneurs who are opening up businesses in an unlikely neighborhood of San Francisco.

San Francisco Chronicle

Sunny Simmons and his wife, Caroline Smith, have an idea. They are opening a high-end, holistic spa, with acupuncture, healing massage and Japanese tea.

In the Tenderloin.

Admittedly, the space is gorgeous. Simmons, a builder and contractor, bought a former auto body shop on Eddy Street and has transformed it with redwood shelving and doors and a communal bathing pool with a stone deck. It looks like an expensive Japanese spa.

In the Tenderloin.

Simmons and Smith think that when the Onsen Spa opens in October, they’ll attract a diverse clientele of office workers needing a healing massage, acupuncture treatment and, perhaps, a dip in the warm communal bath (swimsuits required). But Simmons admits it may be a new concept to some in the neighborhood.

“A lot of people in the community are not that familiar with bathing culture,” he said.

It’s a safe bet that many people in the Tenderloin have zero experience with spas, high end or otherwise. But this is an interesting moment in the TL. It has that vibe of an edgy, emerging neighborhood, which many businesses want to get into. But the timing has to be just right. Too soon and the customers aren’t there yet. Too late and … well, you’re too late.

Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and a neighborhood booster, thinks the spa is a terrific addition to the 400 block of Eddy Street, which he says is an example of how the area is improving. He cites the recently opened Black Cat Supper Club, which is also on the block.

“The Black Cat has been a huge success,” he said. “It is filled every night. Sunny and Caroline feel like if they provide something great, people will come.”

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