Find a commercial location for your business

Assess factors like demographics, safety, traffic, zoning and building requirements, and accessibility.


Neighborhood demographics tell you who your customers and neighbors are – their age, gender, income, education, family size, even what kind of food they like to eat. Knowing these demographics can help you understand your market and target certain types of customers. 


Your building and the area around it should feel safe to your customers and employees. Consider whether the location is well lit, what the crime rate is in the area, and whether or not you need a security system or security guard.


Traffic refers to both where people are driving and where they are walking: car traffic and pedestrian traffic. Restaurants and retailers must consider traffic information including how many people pass by your location, at what times of day and in what direction.

Leasing tips

Research zoning

Find out if you are allowed to operate your business in the building or location you are considering. If you tie yourself to an area or space you cannot use because of conflict with zoning regulations, you could lose your rent deposit or be stuck paying for a place you cannot use. 

Find out about hidden costs

Very few spaces are turnkey ready. Be sure to consider costs like renovation, decorating, IT system upgrades, and so on.

Ask about ADA Compliance

Landlords are required to make public restrooms and ground-floor entrances/exits accessible, or give you notice if the space may not be ADA compliant. Other aspects of ADA compliance will be your responsibility, and you should consult with a CASp (Certified Access Specialist) to help determine the cost of any required improvements.

Learn more about accessibility for business.

Negotiate the lease

Research similar sites in the neighborhood so you can show your landlord the market costs of nearby sites. Review multiple sites to know more about the market. This will help you negotiate the lease in your favor.

If you'd like help reviewing your lease, contact the Office of Small Business by emailing

Include contingencies

When negotiating a lease, make sure it is flexible enough, or specifically allows for delays in case it takes longer than expected to obtain your permits.

Understand the lease clauses

Read through all the important clauses in your lease,  including how rent is calculated and quoted, the term of the lease, the start date of the lease, and what happens if the landlord decides to sell the property. Understand how communication with the landlord will work, like how you'll contact them when a repair is needed or when it's time to renew your option.

Plan an exit strategy

If you can, negotiate a lease that allows you to transfer your business to a new owner, just in case something happens to cause your business to fail. The clause that allows you to sell your business is called an assignment clause.

Be active in the community

Take time to talk with neighboring merchants and consider joining a local merchant association. Don't underestimate the power of community support.

Featured Resources

SF Public Library Business Center

The Small Business Center on the fourth floor of the SF Library Main Branch strives to meet the needs of the entrepreneur by providing materials on how to plan, finance, organize, operate and market a small business. The Center also has demographic data on San Francisco.

Planning Department Property Information Map (Zoning Check)

The Planning Department’s online Property Information Map allows you to see what codes apply to your property and what permits may have been issued on your property in the past. The "Zoning District" under "Zoning Information" lists whether a business type is permitted or not.

CB3P Community Business Priority Processing Program

The CB3P streamlines the Conditional Use process for certain small and mid-sized business applications. Projects that qualify for, and enroll in, the CB3P are guaranteed (1) a hearing date within 90 days of filing and (2) placement on the Planning Commission’s consent calendar.

Last updated March 8, 2024