Citing constant street crime — mostly drug dealing — on his block of 7th Street, just south of Market, San Francisco business owner Max Young has indefinitely locked the doors to his bar and club Mr. Smith’s. “If we sit at my bar, within 15 minutes, you’ll watch a deal happen in front of the doorway,” Young says. As local news station KPIX interviewed Young last week to discuss the situation, cameras proved his point, capturing drug use and sales on video.
Mr. Smith’s opened in 2005, “when you could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit a soul,” says Young. It’s been part cocktail spot, part downstairs dance club, with an upstairs VIP lounge and a sultry vibe throughout. “I’m not saying it was perfect, but it was always a nice room,” Young recalls. “It had great cocktails without being pretentious, balanced with this super fun dance floor.”
Today, with more businesses and hotels open in the area near Mr. Smith’s, Young has more potential customers — but they’re too afraid to walk down the street to his bar, and Young doesn’t blame them. The scene has gotten “progressively worse,” says Young, a native San Franciscan. But he doesn’t blame drug users — rather, he points the finger at dealers, who prey with impunity on addicts.
“I’m not talking about users, or addicts, who need help,” Young says. “But because of this permissive and forgiving atmosphere, which is a nice thing in concept, some really bad people are taking advantage of that.”
Young also doesn’t blame the police, who he says are responsive to his requests for help. Instead, he blames city officials who don’t adequately take on drug crime. “If you don’t have enough beds to help [homeless addicts], at least get the guys that are killing these people.”
A group of local bar and restaurant owners recently met at city hall to discuss the challenges they face. One on their list of issues: Street crime and cleanliness, which can discourage business. For his part, Young says Mr. Smith’s started to lose money for the first time last year. And he knows he’s not alone in his experience in San Francisco. “This goes way beyond me closing the doors of my bar,” Young says.
“As long as San Francisco doesn’t have major consequences for open-air drug dealing, people will keep dying on the streets in front of my business, and I can’t open.”