Just when things were looking up for local commerce, Omicron made its way into San Francisco — taking the city more than a few steps back in its financial recovery from the pandemic. Fast forward over a month later, and car and foot traffic in downtown SF is still anemic.
Omicron — the SARS-CoV-2 variant that now accounts for around 95.4% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. — was first detected in San Francisco on December 1, an inevitability as the pandemic morphs into an endemic health crisis. The Variant of Concern (VOC) came down on the city with a thud, leading to the reimplementation of indoor mask-wearing protocols, calls for people eligible to receive a booster shot to get one, and other pandemic-related safety requests.
A byproduct of this (necessary) caution? Businesses faced a lack of consumer activity.
During the pandemic, the @GGRASF and @EatDrinkSF have been focused on advocating for SF's restaurant community - from communicating detailed health directives & closure requirements, to helping navigate financial aid options.https://t.co/kQxwqmOMSAhttps://t.co/8DZ0TqeKID pic.twitter.com/s1RdaLczDB— SF Chamber (@SF_Chamber) December 23, 2021
"Omicron certainly made us take a step back here," said Rodney Fond, the President of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, to ABC7 on the noticeably less busy shopping around downtown SF, particularly in the Financial District. "We've seen that dip in the downtown corridor, and that's largely from offices and tourism taking a temporary time out."
Fong estimates that there's been about a 20% drop in car and foot traffic downtown since the first case of Omicron was recorded in SF last month. Fong's sentiment is also backed by the fact that vehicle traffic through the Bay Bridge has declined some 13% over the past month, as well. Across the country, surveys and reports recently published in the Wall Street Journal show an average decrease in business and consumer activity of around 10% across the board due to a combination of Omicron-related case surges and ongoing supply chain problems.
Then there's the WFH-ness of it all.
According to data compiled from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, 15% of local companies will stay remote permanently, while 50% are adopting a hybrid model that will see employees go into a designated office only a few times a week. Back in 2020, a Gallup poll conducted from March 30 to April 2 of 2020 found that three in five U.S. workers who had been doing their jobs from home during the pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, even after "public health restrictions are lifted.” Suffice to say that this has now turned out to be exactly the case nearly two years later.
Given the transient and nine-to-five nature that the Financial District requires in order for its local small businesses — especially nearby restaurants and bars — to thrive, the gloss of the otherwise polished neighborhood seems unlikely to return. Or at least shine as it did before the pandemic when human beings were packed like canned fish inside commercial real estate. But there's always a chance that it could.
"I know many of those companies have made those plans to come back to the office and are now pulling back," added Fong in closing. "We're trying to stay hopeful."
Photo: Getty Images/DianeBentleyRaymond