This page will help you understand the steps to opening a retail store in San Francisco. It is a resource from the Office of Small Business, San Francisco's central point of information for small businesses.
Choose a location
Choose a location
- Find a location zoned for your business. Every location is zone differently - some could require a "Change of Use" or "Conditional Use" application, which can include a public hearing and neighborhood notification.
- Contact the SF Planning Department at email@example.com or visit the Permit Center at 49 South Van Ness Ave to understand zoning requirements for your proposed location. For more information, visit: https://sf.gov/information/zoning-businesses
- Note: Taking over a space that was previously a retail shop can save time and construction costs
- Determine if you need to make changes to your space. Before signing a lease, you can speak with the Office of Small Business' permit specialists to help you work with City agencies to understand building code requirements for your space.
- Review Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines to make sure your business is accessible. Learn more by visiting: https://sf.gov/information/ada-compliance-business
- Sign your lease. Leases can be tricky, so review the lease carefully before signing. Contact the Office of Small Business to get help reviewing your lease. If you need legal assistance:
- Bar Association of San Francisco's Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 415-989-1616 or visit: https://www.sfbar.org/lris/ or
- Legal Services for Entrepreneurs at 415-543-9444 x217 or visit: https://lccrsf.org/get-assistance/legal-services-for-entrepreneurs/
- Note: Your landlord is required to provide information about the accessibility of the building, in case it needs renovations.
Set up your business
Set up your business
- Create a business plan. Decide what you plan to sell. The types of items you sell, such as electronics, antiques, or used equipment, will determine which permits and licenses you need.
- Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with the CA Secretary of State before registering locally.
- Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This is used to identify your business and allows you to hire employees. If you are a sole proprietor without employees, you may choose to use your Social Security Number instead.
- Register your business with the City and County of San Francisco through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector.
- Resource: https://sftreasurer.org/business/register-business
- Note: If you register your business before choosing a final location, you will have to update your registration with the new address. This can cost money and time.
- Choose and file a business name. File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement at the SF Office of the County Clerk if you will be using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation. Research the name's availability in the county, Secretary of State, and the US Patent and Trademark Office before filing.
- Apply for a Seller's Permit from the CA Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Every location must have this permit to sell taxable goods.
Prepare your space
Prepare your space
- For new construction: Submit plans and documents to the SF Department of Building Inspection (DBI). Be prepared to work with an architect or designer to create your building project plans.
- View DBI plan specifications at: https://sf.gov/information/create-your-building-project-plans
- Visit DBI's Technical Services Counter at 49 South Van Ness (Permit Center) or email TechQ@sfgov.org for questions about building codes
- Identify any hazardous materials that you will store, handle or use. Storing hazardous materials may require modifications to your space and approval from the Fire Department and/or the SF Department of Public Health. Your staff will also need to be licensed to handle or use any hazardous materials.
- Note: If you store hazardous materials, DPH will conduct inspections at least every three years, but you must also complete quarterly self-inspections.
- Gas and electric services: If your business needs new or additional gas or electric services, contact PG&E Building and Renovation Services to start the application process.
- Signs: If you want to install or change a canopy or sign on the outside of the building, ensure you comply with Planning Department and DBI sign guidelines.
- Planning Department: https://sfplanning.org/resource/signs
- DBI: https://sf.gov/step-by-step/get-permit-build-sign
- Note: Awning permit fees are waived each year during the month of May. You can qualify if you submit your permit application during the month of May. Ask for the permit fee waiver from Planning Department and DBI.
- Post all required posters and permits including, but not limited to, No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, and health inspection results.
- Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.
- Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from these departments:
You must register it with the SF Department of Public Health Weights and Measures Program.
Hiring your first employee is a big step and has new complexities. Learn about labor law and payroll taxes at the local, state, and federal levels.
If 50 people or more will gather in your business at any time, you will need this permit.