The San Rafael Downtown Business Improvement District is looking to cut costs and amplify its big-draw events as it faces back-to-back years of revenue losses.

The district reported to the city that revenues decreased this year to $61,648, or by about 25%. Typical revenue is about $83,000 annually.

With the revenue decline plus the effects of inflation, the district is recording a loss of about $18,000, leaving a cash balance of $43,500. What’s more, the district is projecting another $16,000 loss in 2023, which would shrink the balance to $27,500.

The San Rafael City Council voted unanimously Monday to support the district’s recommendation to renew the annual assessments it collects from the businesses in the Fourth Street corridor from Lincoln Avenue to the West End neighborhood.

The district’s recovery strategy aims to ramp up its “shop local” initiatives, as well as concentrating energy on two of its most lucrative events: the May Madness hot rod car show, and the Hops and Vines Stroll.

“The one thing the BID wants to focus on is bringing people downtown,” said Sarah Tipple, executive director of the organization. “How do you do that? By creating events, creating a fun festive atmosphere.”

The business district formed in 1979 with 125 businesses along Fourth Street between Lincoln Avenue and E Street. In 2013, the City Council approved an expansion to the West End and some side streets, growing the membership base to about 700.

One of the biggest factors for the revenue decline was uncollected assessments from more than 90 businesses that did not renew their business licenses, according to the city. The annual assessments paid to the business district are collected when licenses are renewed.

For 2022, the loss of assessment revenue equaled $9,825, according to the city.

Assessments, which will remain unchanged in 2023, are on a scale based on business type and location. Businesses along the main Fourth Street corridor pay a premium, while those in the West End pay standard rates.

The assessments range from $25 for a personal service practitioner, like a salon in the West End, up to $425 for a bank or financial institution on the main drag.

At the council meeting Monday, Councilmember Eli Hill asked whether the district had any businesses requesting a decrease, and if it considered increasing the assessment to address the budget shortfalls.

Jed Greene, owner of Five Corners Consulting Group LLC and president of the board, said there’s been no push to lower the rates, “which is good, but there have been some discussions about a potential increase.”

“At this point in time, I don’t know if we felt that it was appropriate — as businesses are still struggling downtown — to increase it,” Greene said. “But it may be something we consider in the future.”

Greene said he’s hopeful the assessment revenues will eventually replenish.

Susan Berke, owner of Marin Mystic Treasures, said she’s enthused about recently becoming a member of the district. Berke, who has operated the crystal shop for years in Novato, opened a second store on Fourth Street in San Rafael about a month ago.

Already, she said she’s seen downtown trick-or-treating, a parade of lights and the “winter wonderland” gathering — when businesses were encouraged to adorn windows with seasonal décor — and continued “shop local” initiatives.

“The BID seems very excited, inspired and motivated to bring people into downtown to shop and eat, to be part of the local community,” Berke said. “It’s inspired me to participate and decorate my windows for the holidays, which is great.”

Tipple said it’s this kind of energy that district leaders are focused on fostering as the downtown exits from the darkest days of the pandemic.

“We’re creating an experience that community members can enjoy while shopping,” Tipple said. “This is something you don’t get shopping online.”

For the holidays, the district has several shop local initiatives, including free three-hour parking at city lots and garages through Dec. 31.

New this year, the district has arranged a scavenger hunt where participants use a map to navigate businesses on Fourth Street from Lincoln Avenue to H Street to find hidden elves. Once the hunt is completed and the map submitted, participants are entered into a drawing for gift baskets ranging from $100 to $300.

The district is also working more collaboratively with the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce. Tipple, who works part time and is the district’s only paid staff, works out of the chamber’s office.

City councilmembers praised Tipple and the board for its social media campaigns and hands-on work on events such as Dining Under the Lights, San Rafael PorchFest, the Dia De Los Muertos Car procession and more. The district was also recognized for partnering with the Mill Valley Film Festival to create downtown shopping and eating incentives for the theater patrons.

“Every dollar that the BID is able to use is stretched so far and that really only happens because of the energy and passion from all the folks that participate — the board and all the businesses that participate,” Hill said. “Hopefully we can find more dollars.”

More information about the BID and its events are at