5 days in the office: SF small businesses say it may be the only way they can survive

Lyanne Melendez Image
Friday, December 8, 2023
SF small businesses want 5-day in-office for workers
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.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Folsom and 2nd street, south of Market could very well be the epicenter of San Francisco's doom loop.

Ask Jeff Handy, owner of Social 303 restaurant in the shadow of this once booming neighborhood.

"This building that I'm standing in front of used to have 4,000 people in it - now there are 400. So you are looking at businesses in San Francisco that are suffering more than any other city in the country," expressed Handy.

Bringing those people back into the office more than two to three days a week has been a challenge for the city regardless of what the mayor has said in the past.

Here's what San Francisco Mayor London Breed said last September.

MORE: San Francisco now at 35% office vacancy rate, highest ever recorded: data

"Who doesn't want to go meet with their co-workers after work and have a drink and let the traffic die down?"

As we discovered, apparently, thousands of people who live or work in San Francisco are willing to come back in-person five days a week.

"Return-to-work policies were not as heavily endorsed in San Francisco and that hurt all of us and continues to," added Handy.

The Oasis Grill next to the Embarcadero Center is a classic example. Since COVID, they have not recovered and find that the private sector has little interest in supporting small businesses. Manager Osman Zughayer, thinks the downtown recovery is achievable if people come back into the offices.

"To bring at least 90% of the employees back - how do you do that? I don't know, maybe the mayor should do that, the government," insisted Zughayer.

MORE: Some federal employees in SF asked to work from home amid drug, crime concerns: report

We asked Supervisor Ahsha Safai how the city plans to bring back the workforce more often that just a few days.

Ahsha Safai: "We are exponentially impacted by the amount of tech and public service businesses that have chosen to remain remote and so at the end of the day..."

Lyanne Melendez: "Hold on a minute - the city also has employees still working from home."

Safai: "They do have the ability to stay home two days a week and again that is decision of the mayor. Ultimately the mayor."

Melendez: "Should that change?"

Safai: "I think we are in a place right now, we can go to flex schedules, we can allow people to do not necessarily 9-5 in some areas but absolutely we need to be coming back five days a week."

Next stop, the mayor.

MORE: As store signs come down, SF mayor talks of recent demand for office space

We asked her will she ask all city employees to come back to work five days a week.

"So to be clear, most of our 34,000 city employees are back at work. Not all. Most of them, but City Hall is pretty much at capacity and other city buildings. Many of the folks who are maybe not at work are, a lot are tech support but I think it's more... the latest number and maybe I should get the latest number to give to you but it's a really high percentage," said Mayor Breed.

City Hall eventually got back to us to report that approximately three-quarters of city staff is working in-person full time.

"Since the pandemic, things have changed. Do I want everyone at work all the time, yes I do," added Breed.

To make matters worse for these small businesses, APEC didn't deliver the kind of boom they anticipated, for a number of reasons.

MORE: Businesses near SF's Moscone Center see up to 80% decrease in sales during APEC

First, there was the security zone imposed by the Secret Service.

"As APEC started to step in, we anticipated a three-day heavy closure with a little set up, it was much larger than expected as it really became a 10-day shutdown for the entire neighborhood," said Scott Rowitz of the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.

Secondly, people were told to work from home to avoid the traffic jams and the protesters.

"From Fisherman's Wharf to downtown to Union Square to Japantown, there is no question it was quieter through the city. People did heed the warning," added Rowitz.

According to the Yerba Buena Community Benefit Center, the average revenue for small businesses near Moscone Center was down by more than 64%.

Many of these affected businesses are hoping the city keeps its promise of compensating them for their losses. The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to set aside $10 million to help those businesses that experienced heavy losses.

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