It's like we're expecting a hurricane. "Non-essential" businesses that many San Franciscans would consider essential — art supply stores, nail salons, quirky street corner bookstores — still dark and vacant throughout San Francisco amid the coronavirus crisis, are now mostly boarded up to prevent vandalism. But between the long stretches of plywood canvassing window panes across the city, irrefutable signs of unity and hope prevail.
An unceremonious march down Valencia and Mission streets, as I’ve come to discover, is an act of gymnastics, attempting to avoid rude pedestrians neglecting proper social distancing practices. But these treks also offer a clear lens into how disastrous the COVID-19 pandemic is to SF’s small businesses.
In less than two weeks, the Mission District’s vivacious dining and commerce scene has all but disappeared. Or rather: it’s fixed in a vacuum, void of its usual foot traffic. Where there were once windows looking into quaint shops and studios, pieces of constructional plywood now take their places, occasionally anthropomorphized by painted or posted messages of solidarity.
Similar displays have popped up across other San Francisco neighborhoods as well, most notably in the Haight-Ashbury. “WE [LOVE] SF, STAY STRONG” is composed on one of the wooden planks that rests over a front-facing windowpane at Love on Haight. Nearby sidewalks, too, are chalked with feel-good pontifications: “Stay Safe San Francisco.”
The recent influx of technicolor scribblings and wash-away street art is refreshing, sure — but the financial plights these local institutions are facing can’t be under-stressed enough. Their individual existences are very black and white: They’ll either make it through this crisis, with the help of both SF and our greater community, or they won’t.
Locanda, for example, just announced they couldn’t weather this storm and permanently closed last week.
Currently, the City of San Francisco has in place a moratorium on commercial evictions for such establishments grossing less-than $25M annually. Though, once it’s lifted, those same business owners will be struck with a lump sum for any unpaid rents, which would be due at some point in time. Moriotiurms, unlike rent suspensions — which forgive all payments throughout their enactment— still require the leaser to pay back the accrued amount. And if they can’t? They’re evicted; it’s a real catch-22.
Arguably, there’s never been a more urgent time to shop and eat locally.
Like we’ve covered in a previous post, a handful of Upper Haight restaurants remain open for takeout and pickup, among them the Yelp-darling Ginza Sushi & Sake. Right now, the Mission District possesses a large number of eateries for sheltered foodies to order-in from. (Counter-serve bakery and cafe Reem’s California just opened at 2901 Mission Street — and they’re taking pickup orders; La Corneta, pictured below, is "Take Out ONLY!")
What else can one do to buttress these neighborhood small businesses? Purchase gift cards to your favorite retailers; shop the online catalogs and Facebook Marketplaces of local boutiques; visit a nearby owner-owned hardware store to buy supplies for your next DIY project. And, if you’re feeling particularly philanthropic with your disposable income, consider giving give a tax-deductible donation to the Give2SF Relief fund, which offers financial assistance to struggling “individuals, families, small businesses, and nonprofits in San Francisco.”
In the meantime, here’s a handful of uplifting Mission District signages and wall writings I snapped using an iPhone (with a headphone jack) to help buoy your spirits.
Photos: Matt Charnock/SFist