Recession fever is doing strange things to San Franciscans. Aside from real concerns about layoffs and the murderous drubbing our 401K’s have taken, I’ve noticed a tendency among the citizenry to look for doomsday scenarios to manifest in our streets. As if we, as sophisticated and diverse urban dwellers in one of the world’s most idyllic and expensive cities, are somehow less legitimate if our Main Streets aren’t all shuttered storefronts. This is not to say neighborhood businesses aren’t vulnerable in an economic downturn, and that some of ours haven’t or might not survive this one. But take a closer look around the city, and you’ll find the resilient health and vibrancy that comes with well-used public space, diversity of uses and populations, and thriving neighborhood commercial.
For one of the best examples, take the N-Judah to 9th Avenue and Irving Street. Despite concerned speculation about empty storefronts and parking spaces, the Inner Sunset’s neighborhood commercial district is weathering the downturn in style. Eateries like Park Chow, Crepevine, and Hotei are still regularly packed. Just getting in the door at Arizmendi Bakery can be difficult at any hour they’re open, and on Mondays (their one day off) a near-constant stream of customers arrive by foot, bike, or double-parked car, cash in hand, only to leave crestfallen.
Admittedly, weekends are naturally more flush and bustling, especially since the reopening of the new Academy of Sciences. But even on a weekday, pricey Cafe Gratitude is full for lunch, shoppers browse upmarket Citishoes, and the crowd at the Mucky Duck spills out onto the street. A purported decrease in consumer spending doesn’t seem to be this neighborhood’s death knell. Similarly, empty parking spaces shouldn’t really be viewed as a harbinger of anything. This neighborhood is so well-served by transit it’s ludicrous: even aside from the mighty N as its arterial lifeblood, the 6, 43, 44, 66 and 71 are direct service from pretty much any city axial.
And, yes some storefronts have shuttered. Regrettably, lovable Black Oak Books and venerable PJ’s Oysterbed both closed their doors last year, and nothing has ever really been able to hack it in the erstwhile Eldos space. But most of the unfortunate examples have more to do with issues specific to building ownership, space, and internal management. There is no rent control for commercial tenants, and just because a neighborhood business is small and adorable, it isn’t exempt from basic business principles. Selling what people need and want to buy is fundamental; doing it in close proximity to residential and complimentary commercial uses is what makes a good urban district. The InSet has everything you need to live or visit: shoes, pet supplies, clothes, beauty, coffee, flowers, sushi, boba, yoga, cards and gifts, food and liquor for here or to go. The stores may change from time to time, but a healthy mix is historically the norm.
Guest blogger Megan Allison Wade is the urbanist and freelance armchair historian behind goodurb.com. She lives in the Haight but can be more effectively located in Arizmendi Bakery on triple mushroom pizza day.