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Local Business Success with the Storefront Improvement Program

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

by Max Allen

Many popular businesses in San Diego can attribute some of their success to their use of San Diego’s little-known Storefront Improvement Program (SIP).

This hidden gem of a program was started in 1986 and provides about 25-30 businesses a year with a grant to “revitalize building facades visible to customers, neighboring merchants, and residents.” Through work with the provided professional design assistance, businesses have the opportunity to revamp their exteriors. For some, it may be just the boost they need for their business to take off.

The program’s mission, as stated in the San Diego City Council’s policy, is to “generate additional revenues to businesses and the City by stimulating private investment in the city’s commercial areas to make the business and surrounding communities more attractive.”

“I feel that the Storefront Improvement Program gives businesses that little leg up to grab the eye of a passerby or become a favorite of the community,” Alissa Gabriel, the Storefront Improvement Program manager said. “It supports them in a way they might not even realize they need until they do it. It contributes to a healthy community fabric by enhancing the pedestrian experience, which makes people want to live and work in and around our older commercial centers.”

The SIP has had success with a variety of notable businesses around San Diego, from Buona Forchetta and Mr. Moto to Art of 30th, Sushi Lounge, and the Olympic Cafe, which is one of Gabriel’s favorite success stories. “They were really able to use the program to launch their business to a new level,” said Gabriel.

Located off of University Ave in North Park, the family-run business is described as, “your friendly neighborhood eatery specializing in Greek cuisine.”

The Kotselas family had been serving the neighborhood for over 35 years before the SIP renovations.

“[We had] always [been] a ‘hole in the wall’ type of restaurant with great food and great service, all that was missing was the atmosphere,” said general manager Nicholas Kotselas.

In July of 2018, they applied to the program and were reviewed, approved, and reimbursed by the city in two months. The renovations led to a very positive impact on the business, a better experience for guests, and more jobs to provide to the community.

“I remember a few months after reopening, my mother and I noted how different it was to see a group at our restaurant for a homecoming dinner,” Nicholas said, regarding the re-opening of the Olympic Cafe. “We simply didn’t have the ambiance to see those types of events come into our restaurant prior to our relocation and storefront improvement.”

Although it’s been around for a while, the Storefront Improvement Program continues to evolve. To apply, businesses simply need to fill out an online application and let the SIP guide them from there. Gabriel emphasized the ease of the process, saying, “We are a department that prides itself on its good customer service so folks should never feel like they are entering a world of rules, regulations, and limitations. They will be treated like a partner start to finish.”

Her administrative perspective was backed up by Nicholas Kotselas, who said the “best part of the process was how simple and easy it was.” He believes that “the initial investment by the city to invest in its businesses is a wise one as it leads to so many positive things for the community” and would love to see more businesses and restaurants discover the program!

If you know an owner of a local business you think could benefit from the Storefront Improvement Program let them know! Storefront Improvement Program Application


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