The results are in: Here's how San Francisco pop-ups are doing

Lyanne Melendez Image
Thursday, January 25, 2024
Here's a look at how San Francisco pop-ups are doing
San Francisco encouraged landlords to host pop-up shops over the holidays. Many believe the temporary businesses are a success and will keep growing.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Downtown San Francisco continues to struggle to attract office workers. Many restaurants and stores have closed because foot traffic fell so dramatically. That's why the city encouraged downtown landlords to host pop-up shops over the holidays.

Now, many believe the temporary businesses are a success and will keep growing.

Some of the stores that popped-up in downtown San Francisco are uncommon, unlikely, and peculiar, like Holy Stitch.

A description is optional.

"It's a sewing school and a factory with an alterations department and donation center," explained Julian Dash, owner of Holy Stitch.

In a city that prides itself for being unconventional, it may be a great fit for a downtown that's evolving.

"A critical aspect was the property owners had to be willing to provide free rent for the pop-up locations, explained Simon Bertrang of SF New Deal. He leads the program.

As a pop-up, Dash was given the rare opportunity to open a store in a prime location, a start up if you will, with all the nuts and bolts.

"We provided the technical assistance and permitting and all the stuff that small businesses, that would prevent them from just opening up shop downtown," added Bertrang.

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San Francisco's Vacant to Vibrant pop-up shops hope to extend their stay in the city as foot traffic is coming back.

Whack Vegan Donuts is another pop up.

The owner, Vandor Hill says without this opportunity, he would have never opened his own business.

"I think we need programs like this to help small businesses not only get that foot in the door, but show that cities revolve around small businesses," said Hill.

The icing on the cake, in this case the donuts, was the generous offer that came with opening shop in the pricey downtown area.

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San Francisco small business owners say having workers return to the office for five days a week may be the only way for them to survive.

There are 17 pop-ups, housed in nine storefronts. That means that some of them share a space with another pop up.

Through the nonprofit SF New Deal, these pop ups also received a grant of between $3,000 and $8,000.

This arrangement gave small neighborhood businesses like Devil's Teeth Bakery a chance to set foot in the downtown area, something that would have been financially impossible just a few years ago.

They share their space with Green Apple Books in the Embarcadero Center.

"Marrying two of our activators together allowed us to get more bank for our buck in terms of people we were supporting, businesses we were supporting and it allowed the street front to get that much more energy," explained Sarah Dennis-Phillips, executive director or the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Now that their three-month, rent-free leases are up, we asked how many had been successful and ready to renew.

Hill shared the news with us. "I'll be here for more than three months," he said

Lease extensions were given to eight of the nine storefronts.

We found out that these property owners were willing to add another three months of free rent. What happens next is to be negotiated. That's when an optimist is born.

"They'll be a good amount of people that will campaign and say they need to stay, let's figure out how they can stay," said Dash.

MORE: 'Vacant to Vibrant Program' in SF announces 17 new pop-up shops

But the downside to any business here is that some people continue to work from home staying clear of the downtown area. That's why most of these pop-ups have limited hours.

The office vacancy rate in downtown remains at 34%.

"The businesses that we're seating are not going to be successful solely off the backs of workers, they are going to, hopefully, succeed because we are going to have more people living downtown, we're going to have events happening at night, we are going to allow people to drink outside at the bars and those are going to be reasons for people to come downtown as well," anticipated Dennis-Phillips.

"It's not easy. It's not for the faint of heart. But the experience itself has been the greatest teacher, so, we're on a rise, we're on a rise," said an optimistic Hill.

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