Retail Shop Starter Kit

The Retail Shop Starter Kit provides everything you need to help you choose a location, obtain a seller's permit and other relevant permits, and open your doors - including a printable version of the Retail Shop Guide.

What’s inside

Guides (1)

Guide - Retail Shop Guide

The Retail Shop Guide is an overview of what it takes to open a retail shop in San Francisco. Every business is different, but we provide the basic steps – along with tips, tricks and common mistakes to avoid. Explore below or download the Guide for quick reference.

Related Documents (3)

Business Plan Template – US Small Business Administration (SBA)

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) created this Business Plan Template to help you research and write your business plan.

Business Entity Comparison Table – SF Office of Small Business

This table provides an at-a-glance reference to how the most common business entity types — sole proprietorship, general partnership, C corporation, S corporation, and LLC — compare in a number of key characteristics.

A Guide to Disabled Accessibility Compliance (English) – SF Office of Small Business

The Guide to Accessibility Compliance brochure explains disabled access laws in detail and offers advice on how to protect your business from potential lawsuits. Since every business must comply with the Americans with Disability Act, this guide helps small businesses understand and meet those requirements. This brochure also serves as the Access Information Notice required by Administrative Code Chapter 38, where landlords must provide this information to tenants at the time of lease execution or amendment for spaces 7,500 sq. ft. or less.

Permits (11)

Business Registration Certificate

The basic city business registration required for all businesses who wish to operate in San Francisco.

Sign Permit

Required for most business signs. Includes fabricated and hanging signs, as well as signs that have been painted directly on a building.

Building Permit

Permit required for any additions, alterations, or repairs to a building, and electrical wiring and plumbing installations.

Weighing & Measuring Device Permit

The Weights and Measures program registers weighing or measuring devices to ensure consumer protection and rights. Applies to any business that will be using regulated weighing and measuring devices, including Point of Sale & Taxi Meters.

Weights & Measures Automated Point of Sale Registration

Registration required for businesses that have at least one Point of Sale (POS) station.

Sidewalk Display Merchandise/Produce Permit

Allows you to display merchandise on a portion of the sidewalk outside of your business.

Minor Sidewalk Encroachment Permit

For business owners who want to install and maintain a minor encroachment, extending from his/her property. These may include, but are not limited to fences, retaining walls, steps or stairways and other minor structures in the sidewalk fronting.

Fictitious Business Name

Allows you to use a business name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation.

Affidavit for Formula Retail Establishments

This form is for applicants proposing to open a Formula Retail Establishment (chain store) - a retail business with eleven or more standardized establishments in the US.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN is also known as a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number. It is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A business needs an EIN to pay employees and to file business tax returns. An EIN does not expire and is unique to your business – once an EIN has been given to an entity, it will never be issued again.

Seller’s Permit

Permit required in order to sell or lease tangible personal property in the State of California.

Retail Shop Guide

The Retail Shop Guide is an overview of what it takes to open a retail shop in San Francisco. Every business is different, but we provide the basic steps – along with tips, tricks and common mistakes to avoid. Explore below or download the Guide for quick reference.

Choose a Location

Find a location

Find a location zoned for your business. Every location is zoned differently - some could require a “Change of Use” or “Conditional Use” application, which can include a public hearing and neighborhood notification.

Visit the Planning Information Center

Visit the SF Planning Department's Planning Information Counter at 1660 Mission St. to understand zoning and building codes. These requirements will determine where you open your shop.

Review ADA guidelines

Review Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines to make sure your business is accessible.

Sign your lease.

Sign your lease. Leases can be tricky, so review the lease carefully with a lawyer before signing.

Your landlord is required to provide information about the accessibility of the building, in case it needs renovations.

Set Up Your Business

Create a plan

Create a plan for the type of shop you will open.

Choose a business structure

Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations, and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with CA Secretary of State before registering locally.

Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the 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

Register your business with the City through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector (TTX).

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.

Apply for a Seller’s Permit

Apply for a Seller’s Permit from the CA State Board of Equalization. Every location must have this permit to sell taxable goods.

Prepare Your Space

New construction

Submit plans and documents to the SF Department of Building Inspection. Change and resubmit plans as needed.

Identify Hazardous Materials

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. Your staff will also need to be licensed to handle or use any hazardous materials.

Note! DPH staff will conduct inspections at least every 3 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.

Transit Impact Development Fee

If your business will increase the number of people coming to your area, you may have to pay a Transit Impact Development Fee to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).

Some businesses may be eligible for fee waivers or reductions, including small businesses and non-formula retail expanding or occupying pre-existing commercial space not exceeding 5,000 gross square feet.


If you want to install or change a canopy or sign on the outside of the building, ensure you comply with the SF Planning Department sign guidelines.

Retail Services

Retail Items

The types of items you sell, such as electronics, pets, and used equipment, will affect which permits and licenses you need. The Portal can help you determine which permits and licenses are necessary for you.

Plastic Bag Ban

Do not use plastic check-out bags. Additionally, you must charge 10¢ for all allowable checkout bags. Allowed checkout bags include compostable bags, recycled paper bags, or reusable bags.

Conditional Requirements

Cash registers

If you will have a Point of Sale (POS) station (also called a cash register), you must register it with the SF Department of Public Health Weights and Measures Program.

Make sure your register is equipped to print your business name and address on your receipts.


If you plan to hire employees, be sure to follow all wage and employment guidelines.

Sidewalk displays

If you plan to display merchandise on the sidewalk, you must be able to provide 6 ft. of sidewalk clearance and obtain a Sidewalk Display Permit from the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Place of Assembly Permit

If 50 people or more will gather in your bar at any time, you will need a Place of Assembly Permit from the SF Fire Department.

Playing music

If you plan on playing music over speakers, you must obtain a music license from at least one of the major music companies, like Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Establishments under 3,750 SQ FT are exempt.

Bike racks

If you want bike racks in front of your shop, you must follow the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) bicycle parking guidelines. The MTA installs racks for short-term bike parking (under two hours) in the public right-of-way (on the sidewalk or in the parking lane) by request, at no charge.

After Opening

Post required posters and permits

Post all required posters and permits including No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, OSHA posters etc.

Permit renewals

Mark your calendar. Set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.

Pay your taxes.

Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from the SF Treasurer, SF Assessor, CA Franchise Tax Board, and the IRS.