After considerable debate and revision, curbside retail sales and pickups formally began in San Francisco on Monday. But because of the tight restrictions placed on local retailers by the city, it was met with a muted drumroll and short, sparse lines — for some merchants, if any at all — across the seven-by-seven.
What promised some semblance of pre-COVID-19 ordinariness, curbside pick up kicked off in San Francisco yesterday, as well as in Marin and San Mateo counties. However, with city officials placing additional constraints — over the weekend, no less — on retailers, many of San Francisco’s storefronts still sit bare and beige with boarded up plywood. The unlikely underdogs that looked the busiest? Bookstores and sex shops.
Live Conversation: Reopening Requirements https://t.co/pcDy6qG3B3— London Breed (@LondonBreed) May 18, 2020
Alas, my cross-city traversing late Monday afternoon unearthed more rhinestones than rubies. The reported rise in tent encampments around SF was on full display in the Tenderloin; chained-up doorways were nearly as numerous as they were two months ago. Uplifting murals continued to decorate wooden panels.
Though, a handful of retailers — primarily those selling either literature or lubricants — welcomed the masses, albeit from six-feet away.
In the Haight-Ashbury, specifically, bookstores like Booksmith and Comix Experience wedged tables between their doorways to allow for patrons to buy from a distance. Shareable pens saddled tall bottles of hand sanitizer, and shoppers were encouraged to use Apple Pay or Google Pay when possible to offer a completely contact-free experience. Unfortunately, most of the neighborhood’s idiosyncratic consumer landmarks — Amoeba Music, Love on Haight, Relic Vintage — sat dormant.
The Castro, while quasi-crowded with San Franciscans synthesizing vitamin D, was a shell of its former self. Rock Hard’s on-display dildos and other pleasures were available from their entryway. But aside from restaurants peddling takeout (like the Lookout’s now-famous bucket levy system dropping libations to drinkers below), it was business as usual amid the pandemic: glum and meager.
That level of lackluster foot traffic was common throughout much of San Francisco’s other neighborhoods.
Crystal Way’s Upper Market location fastened a sign behind their locked gate, informing passersby they could pick up orders, curbside, once those transactions were completed online. The Mission District’s celebrated, libertine Good Vibrations was open for locals looking to reverberate on a higher frequency; Dog Eared Books, too, offered volumes for sale sans physical touch. And Therapy Store’s 545 Valencia Street location had scribbled on a piece of paper they were open, encouraging those to quell their anxieties through a bit of mindless online shopping that could later be picked up on-site.
What could’ve injected a needed pulse back into so many of our city’s small businesses seems to have flatlined. While San Francisco deemed 95 percent of local businesses can now reopen for curbside, the principal damage has already been done. And as KRON4 notes, those merchants who are still hanging on by a fiscal thread are choosing to stay closed because of the uncertainty about how much of an economic impact curbside pick up can offer.
Until a more concise, comfortable, and digestible roll out for retail reopening — one that allows for more than ten people to work at once and doesn't bombard each customer with a novel’s worth of health and safety jargon — is set in motion, SF’s small businesses will likely continue to suffocate en masse.
In the interim, and if you’re in the fortunate position to do so, consider purchasing from the online shops of your favorite local retailers to support them.
Also, the City set up the Give2SF fund in the initial days of the pandemic to offer financial aid for both individuals and small businesses alike affected by COVID-19; it’s the same fund Salesforce committed $1.5M to in early March. All donations are tax-deductible, to boot.
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Image: Matt Charnock/SFist