The sight of businesspeople in a hurry carrying pre-packaged salads was typical of the downtown San Francisco lunch break before March. But with business people staying at home, this once familiar scene has now been replaced by empty streets and darkened shop fronts.
Since the pandemic devastated restaurants and bars in the financial district and south of the market, his sandwich shop Deli Board has become a destination for customers who happen to be drinking coffee in the neighborhood or walking to a scheduled appointment, according to Adam Mesnick.
“It’s decimated down here. I mean, you watch this collapse all the time, ”said Mesnick about the current business situation around SoMa and the FiDi districts.
Calling these once busy areas “decimated” would not be far. Based on credit card data trends collected by Mastercard and shared with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, approximately 293 out of 344 (or 85%) of bars and restaurants in SoMa, FiDi, and neighboring neighborhoods are believed to be closed.
That percentage includes businesses that are temporarily or permanently closed through November 30th to the following San Francisco zip codes: 94102, 94103, 94104, 94105, 94107, 94108, and 94109. (Editor’s note: Some of these bars and restaurants have possibly appeared closed and not “open” due to the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Mastercard, who looked at spending insights from late October through late November).
According to trends in MasterCard credit card information provided to the SF Chamber of Commerce, approximately 85% of restaurants and bars in the South of Market, Financial District and its neighboring districts have temporarily or permanently closed since March. The percentage was only focused on the food industries around FiDi, SoMa, Nob Hill, Pulk Gulch and others highlighted on this map through the end of November.
“I think the fundamental scary thing for downtown, SoMa, and for some at Moscone Center is simply the lack of business customers and everyday people who are the bread and butter of cafes and places that haven’t even reopened.” “Said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “So many of these downtown restaurants, and certainly those at the Moscone Center, really depend on business travel. I think we’ll need the vaccine before the state allows us to convention. “
It is difficult to maintain the full extent of city-wide restaurant closings, according to Thomas. One way to quantify this is to go through about 4,000 existing restaurant permits and see which ones are still active. The problem is that companies sometimes appear active (or open) despite their actual status.
“Who will bother calling the health department and closing the permit? This is the last thing you will think of when you have to close a deal, ”said Thomas. “I think we should look at the credit card details.”
When looking at credit card trends, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce can judge the number of closings based on the lack of sales transactions in bars and restaurants.
“At the beginning of the pandemic [restaurant closures in downtown were at] about 50%, which was shocking, ”said Emily Abraham, public policy manager at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “[We] in the Chamber were very concerned about all of our members and all branches of the city. I think it will be a steep, steep fight. “
And with just a few weeks in 2020, it’s a trend that Abraham believes will continue in 2021.
“There’s only so much to film for restaurants,” said Abraham. “So we will unfortunately close them in large numbers.”
During the pandemic, restaurants have found new ways to conduct their businesses while complying with ever-changing operating rules and restrictions. Last week the San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Marin counties agreed that they would issue a home stay order ahead of Governor Gavin Newsom’s schedule. For now, restaurants will only be able to offer take-away meals without outside dining, while bars and wineries will have to close.
But most detrimental to the food industry around downtown SF was the lack of clerks and conventions. Mesnick said about 25% of his business depended heavily on hospitality, but that part of his finances has since diminished.
“I had a lot of catering as anyone can imagine,” said Mesnick. “We had five or six really good customers that we would feed once a month, so we’re nowhere near where we have been in terms of my production. My income was based on private parties and things like that. “
It’s also unclear what the downtown SF landscape will look like in 2021. Many tech companies like Facebook and Google have announced that they will allow their employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future, while others like domestic politics will continue indefinitely.
“Permanent remote control [and] Work from home [is] will eliminate a huge pedestrian base and large corporate dinners for these catering orders, ”said Abraham. “I think this will have an impact on the city’s demographics.”
In this photo taken on Friday, April 17, 2020, a woman is jogging past the former Pacific Stock Exchange building in San Francisco’s Financial District. Usually the months leading up to summer bring busy crowds to the city’s iconic landmarks, but this year they sit empty and still because of the coronavirus threat. Some parts are like eerie ghost towns or blatant scenes from a science fiction film.
Eric Risberg / AP
The City of San Francisco has offered help to its restaurants by waiving some permit fees, implementing the Slow Streets program, and allowing facilities to build parklets for outdoor dining, and while Thomas thinks they have all been helpful, it suffices just not off. She is not optimistic that restaurateurs can hold out without major government help.
“We have to get this help from the federal government and can hardly wait for the inauguration,” said Thomas. “We need something temporary now … because people won’t make it, and not just San Francisco. We need millions of dollars for this industry. “
Amid the losses, there were new restaurant openings in the city in 2020. Yelp told SFGATE that San Francisco had a total of 299 restaurant openings between March 1 and November 30, and saw an additional 844 restaurant reopenings over the same period.
Mesnick said he feels lucky to be able to sell a product that is considered “essential” amid the pandemic. He is grateful for his employees, who “have done an enormous amount of adjustment work”. But looking ahead to the next year, Mesnick is considering how Deli Board could change. His lease at 1058 Folsom St. will be ten years old next fall, but after that he’s not sure what his future holds.
“I feel like I’m near a COVID fire right now,” said Mesnick. “Anything can happen tomorrow … [and] I think the complications of doing business in San Francisco have always been extremely complicated by forces beyond human control. There were inherent challenges that are unfortunately really exposed in the light of COVID. I think the city has to make some effort to inspire people to keep growing here. “