Lessons in Regulatory Barriers to Entry: San Francisco Ice Cream Shop Edition

Josh Wright —  18 February 2012

A great video recounting the trials and tribulations of an entrepreneur and her attempts to open an ice cream shop in San Francisco (HT: Scott James at the NY Times and Craig Newmark).  From the NY Times story:

Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city’s morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open.

“It’s just a huge risk,” she said, noting that the financing came from family and friends, not a bank. “At several points you wonder if you should just walk away and take the loss.”

Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.

The ice cream shop’s travails are at odds with the frequent promises made by the mayor and many supervisors that small businesses and job creation are top priorities. ….

Even after she acceded to all the city’s demands, her paperwork sat unprocessed for months. Ms. Pries would not say exactly how much it all cost, including construction, but smiled and nodded when asked if it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I suspect the pernicious economic effects of local barriers to entry, rather than those at the state or federal level, are significantly greater than commonly thought.  They are certainly understudied.