SF Gay Travel Agency Being Evicted
A travel agency founded by gay men that's been in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood for almost 30 years is being evicted.
The fate of Now, Voyager, at 4408 18th Street, comes just over a year after the apparent suicide of founder Jonathan Klein, 61, and the departure of co-founder Peter Greene, 59, who's been running the business.
Greene thinks the landlord, Chandra Maniedeo, wants him out so she can raise the rent. But Maniedeo said Greene had expressed doubts about the survival of his business, and she wants stability in the space.
The 60-day eviction notice was given on April 15 to Klein's estate. Klein left Now, Voyager to Greene in his will, but the probate process hasn't ended, so Klein's estate still owns the business.
Greene said the eviction notice came after he asked Maniedeo "if we could stay after the probate was finished."
He said the notice came with a letter in which she wrote, "Over the past 1.5 years, I found it to be very worthwhile to subsidize the monthly rent, due to my personal belief that businesses such as Now, Voyager are rare, important, and valuable to any neighborhood. I am saddened that it is now unrealistic for me to continue as things have been."
"To me, that says, 'I need to get more rent,'" said Greene.
In her letter, Maniedeo also noted that the lease allows for either party to give "60-day notice in order to terminate" the tenancy, which is month to month. Greene said the business wasn't behind on rent, which is $1,700 a month.
"She's operating within the law, there's no doubt," said Greene, who declined to share copies of the eviction notice or Maniedeo's letter, but read part of it to a reporter.
Greene acknowledged the rent is "below market rate." He doesn't know how much he would have been willing to pay, "but I would have liked to have entertained an offer."
He and Klein met on a gay bike trip in China in the early 1980s and started Now, Voyager, which is named after a Bette Davis film, in 1984. Klein bought out Greene's half of the business about 20 years ago. Greene lived upstairs from the agency but took a buyout after Klein's death. The agency's services have included booking gay cruises.
Klein is believed to have jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Last year, Lieutenant Keith Boyd, assistant chief deputy coroner for Marin County, said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter , "We are working a case involving Jonathan Klein ... who is a suspected suicide related to the Golden Gate Bridge." Boyd didn't respond to a phone message this week.
San Francisco's high tech boom has come with many renters in the city being evicted from their apartments. Greene, who now lives in Palm Springs, said he's talking about the Now, Voyager eviction because "I would like the story not to happen again and again and again."
Planning Department records indicate Maniedeo has owned the building since at least 2012.
There's more to the story than Greene shared, according to Maniedeo's responses to emailed questions.
During her pre-eviction notice meeting with Greene, she said, "I learned that he was not even sure if he was going to accept the inheritance of Now, Voyager; he said accepting the inheritance would also mean that the accompanying business debt would also be his," along with other costs.
Greene told her the business was in "bad financial shape" and "he couldn't even sign a one-year lease due to that financial situation," said Maniedeo.
She said he also told her "that if he decides to accept the inheritance, he would not be willing to sign a lease of even one-year, and would only be willing to be a month-to-month renter."
Maniedeo said he also discussed the possibility of operating the agency as a home-based business but "seemed hopeful that the Castro renovation project would increase foot traffic and result in an increase of travel tickets sales as people walk by the storefront."
If he did take the inheritance, Greene told her "he would want to discuss the rent since he would need probably one year to get back on his feet," she said.
"He also stated that, as far as he knew, probate could 'end any day' or could end in a couple of months, he said he didn't know anything besides his unwillingness to sign a lease," she said.
Probate ending would mean the current Now, Voyager lease "would immediately be void, meaning that I could have a vacancy with no notice," said Maniedeo, who added, "I'm not looking for sky-high rents or to displace businesses, but I am looking for stability."
Maniedeo shared her letter to Greene with the B.A.R. but asked for the contents not to be published. In the letter, she didn't specifically say she was worried about stability, but she did allude to Greene's business concerns.
In an email exchange with the B.A.R. , Greene said there are "many inaccuracies" among Maniedeo's claims.
"My discussion with Chandra was simply intended to get a feel for her plans for the storefront, so that I would be prepared to know what the expenses would be once the probate process ends," he said. "We discussed future options, including a continued month-to-month lease or possibly a long-term lease."
Asked in a phone interview about how business had been after Klein's death, Greene was evasive and declined to share specific figures. However, he said people had come "from all over the world to get [Klein's] advice and to book travel," and his death "was a shock to the system."
"I did my best to oversee it and make sure we were carrying on a tradition of excellence" that clients had known, he said.
Since Klein's death, two contractors have been running the business under Greene's direction.
Greene seems conflicted about how to proceed.
"I'm not going to just run from this without a bit of a fight," Greene said of the eviction. However, he also said he doesn't know how a commercial eviction can be stopped, and even if he did know where to file a response, "I don't know what good that would do."
Greene isn't sure what will become of the agency. Among other tasks, he said he has to determine whether moving Now, Voyager to another Castro space is possible.
He said he'd still offer "boutique travel service," and he indicated he wouldn't move the operation to an online-only format, since part of the business's appeal is that it gives people a chance to interact in person.
Asked about having a new tenant lined up for the site, Maniedeo said she's "had conversations with several parties," but she has "not yet made a final decision as to how best to move forward with the space. Whichever direction the space goes, the constant is that it's not realistic for me to sign a new month-to-month rental agreement; at this time, my preference is nothing shorter than a five-year term."
Greene said he's reached out to gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).
In an emailed statement to the B.A.R. , Leno said, "As a longtime client, supporter and friend of Now, Voyager, I am deeply saddened to hear that it is being forced from its current location in the Castro where it has served the LGBT community for 30 years. It is heartbreaking to see such a revered business leave our community, and I sincerely hope they can stay in operation in San Francisco."
Greene is planning a party at the business on June 15, its last day.