These are the businesses thriving in SF's Union Square

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Thursday, May 25, 2023
These are the businesses thriving in SF's Union Square
We've heard a lot about the struggles of Union Square, with lots of empty storefronts and even more stores leaving. However, there is some good news. Here are some of the stores thriving in that area.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We've heard a lot about struggling Union Square, with lots of empty storefronts and even more stores leaving. But, there is some good news. Union Square is seeing more luxury stores expand. And, new data shows that tourists are still visiting the area.

At Samuel Scheuer Fine Linens which has been in Union Square for more than 30 years, customers are still stopping in for the extra attention and experience of shopping in person.

"With sheets, it's such a personal thing. You really have to come in and feel what you like," said Taylor Enstall, Design Ambassador for Samuel Scheuer. "They come in to actually feel what they like, which is very important. Whether they cotton, or a linen or Italian beechwood."

VIDEO: Nordstrom to close both Downtown San Francisco stores, company confirms

Nordstrom is planning to close both of its Downtown San Francisco stores, including inside of Westfield Mall, the store confirmed Tuesday.

Some say Union Square has a way to go to recover from the pandemic.

"It's a little empty. Not nearly as many people walking around," said shopper Julie Crocker.

Foot traffic was down 27 percent in the district in February compared with the same month in 2019.

Vacancy rates hit 19 percent in the first quarter of this year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, tourists are the ones visiting the high-end stores compared to locals.

"The city needs the sales tax revenue. If the tourists are coming and wanting to shop, that can only be a positive," said shopper Graham from San Francisco.

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"I don't know what it's going to take to get the locals back down here. But I'm glad the tourists are coming. So that's a good sign," said Crocker.

Marisa Rodriguez is CEO of Union Square Alliance.

"We are starting to see foot traffic levels really peak up. We are not pre-pandemic all the way, but we are getting close," said Rodriguez. "I think people who are coming out of the pandemic are really looking for what they call 'revenge travel and experiences.' Luxury seems to be at the forefront of that. We are seeing stores actually expanding their footprint here in Union Square." A few weeks ago, Rodriguez told ABC7 News that luxury stores are actually expanding in the area.

"One of the first was Bottega Veneta. Shortly after that, we saw Brunello Cucinelli also expand their footprint. We saw YSL move from their current location to a more flagship-style location," said Rodriguez. "Chanel purchased the building with a desiring goal to have three levels of luxury retail right at the heart of Union Square."

MORE: SF Whole Foods closure seen as another blow to Mid-Market's revitalization efforts

"What I heard is Nordstrom is closing or moving. So I'm surprised to hear some of the more expensive stores are opening. That's a good sign," said Crocker.

Rodney Fong, President and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce offered this statement Wednesday afternoon:

"As tourism rebounds after the pandemic, the streets of Union Square are brimming with newfound energy and excitement. Luxury stores are seizing the opportunity by opening new branches and expanding their presence making it the most lively and bustling it has been in years."

Meanwhile, Mayor London Breed said she's pushing for zoning and tax code changes to make it easier for businesses to open up.

"We are changing our zoning across our downtown and Union Square to help fill empty spaces with more diverse uses," said Mayor Breed at the SF Chamber Breakfast on Tuesday. "We can't keep pretending that they're going to go back. We have to be relentless to everything we do in San Francisco...we have to diversify."

"There is a zoning package that is going through the process. That's going to make it so you don't have to have three levels of retail. You can have retail on the first level and any use on top It could be an office; it could be a school, a dental office, whatever you want. (That's) helping to make the process easier. There's lots of residential conversion as part of that package," explained Rodriguez.

RELATED: What's in store for San Francisco Bay Area's economy post-pandemic?

Rodriguez said the proposal is still being reviewed.

"It won't be until later this summer that we get the full seal of the entire Board of Supervisors," said Rodriguez.

"We definitely need some creative thinking along those lines," said shopper Graham.

Flower stand owner Daniel Regalado opened his business, Flowers World CA, about a year ago. His business faces a number of buildings adorned with for lease signs.

"Just on this block there are 13 empty stores," said Regalado.

He believes change is desperately needed ike the proposed changes in zoning codes and tax codes.

"I think this is a great idea. Get people into stores," said Regalado.

"We know people want to experience music, they want to experience luxury, and they want to experience dining and art," said Rodriguez. "We're moving in the right direction. Certainly, it takes time."

Our media partner the SF Standard created the map below which shows store closures near Union Square and the surrounding area since 2020.

For a better experience, click here to view the full map in a new window

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