Almost everyone in America knows how much the world changed in 2020. The free-and-easy way of normal life, even our most mundane tasks, such as buying a mango smoothie or attending a spin class, has changed. The normal we knew, really, is in a spin cycle.
Not as sad as the incredible human loss and its rippling effect on millions of people, but still significant, are the industries and workers, as well as their families, who are directly suffering as a result of the pandemic, particularly in the health, restaurant and tourism sectors. History is being rewritten daily.
As the economy goes through a loop, how is San Francisco responding? It’s no secret that California has been one of the hardest-hit states. How has the city changed as a result of Covid in comparison to other major cities?
Tourism and Hotels
Catastrophically for some, San Francisco’s tourism industry—America’s tourism industry, really—has basically shut down. The majority of those who travel the streets of San Francisco during the summer are tourists, and with Covid in full swing and tourism virtually halted, the popular neighborhoods such as Union Square, are not so popular right now. Instead, the normal foot traffic is sparse, even forcing hotels to temporarily close their doors to save money on payroll. This was the normal over this spring and summer of 2020.
After months of being closed, though, many hotels decided to remove the plywood from their front doors and reopen recently, accepting guests, although in small, screened amounts. Still, not many tourists are in the city, and definitely none from overseas countries such as Japan, Australia or Germany. Leisure air travel at the moment is out of the question for many, which means the vast majority of the travelers (the few there are) hail from other California cities such as Los Angeles, Sacramento and small towns, most of them within driving distance.
What is happening for San Francisco residents is the reverse. Many are looking to get out of the city and into nature. It’s not far. A few hours of driving in any direction and you can enjoy the tranquility of the wilderness. The hiking trails in Tahoe, Yosemite and other forested areas are popular, with San Franciscans looking to get away (and socially distance themselves), as opposed to dealing with the uncertainty of a more crowded city. Who can blame them?
Other industries, including those such as retail, have slowed down significantly here as well. Even Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, saw many of the malls and retail streets almost barren compared to previous years. By the looks of it, many wanted to stay home and shop online, thus avoiding the crowds.
Anyone who did shop was required to wear a mask while doing so—not a big deal for many who live here; San Francisco is one of the more responsible cities around the country for wearing masks. Many here look at it as a sign of respect to make others in the city feel safe, not as a political statement or an infringement on rights.
You can still find retail establishments open in Hayes Valley, on Chestnut Street and Union Square, although many are adjusting their hours, several even staying closed due to the lack of demand. We’ll see what the next few months bring, but for retail, as long as the virus is here, things do not look promising.
Is Anywhere Busy?
Certain neighborhoods, believe it or not, are busy, namely the ones with younger, local residents. Places such as the Marina, with its “parklettes,” or small wood canopies dotting the streets for outdoor dining, tend to gather couples and friends for brunch. And, on the weekends, you can head to Hayes Valley, a lesser known, small neighborhood near City Hall, where many share stories for happy hour or even perform arts in the streets. Lastly, The Mission and Dolores Park have their gatherings, although nowhere near as large or as boisterous as before.
Because of these resident meetups, the city decided to close down a few streets in the neighborhoods to vehicular traffic, allowing the locals to stroll in the streets and socially distance. It’s not the same as before, and many argue others should stay inside to quell the virus. The counter-argument is that mental health is equally important—to help others cope with their new solitary, indoor lifestyle.
Businesses Are Closing Down
Unfortunately, because of this downturn in economic activity, many small businesses across the city are beginning to permanently close. Even if the pandemic disappears tomorrow, many businesses will continue to buckle, with no with no reprieve for those in the crosshairs. For a restaurant, for example, maybe it was its location; the Financial District has been harder hit than anywhere else because of the lack of workers in the office buildings. Or perhaps it was the style of food; not many want to purchase Farrilon’s mussels in a to-go container). Then again it could be just sheer lack of luck. But continuing to pay a lease in San Francisco, whether for retail, restaurants, tourism, San Francisco jiu-jitsu gyms or anything else, with little money coming in the doors, has many business owners throwing in the towel.
Recently, as of December 2020, the city has again chosen to go into lockdown, which may be the final death blow to these small businesses. With their savings gone after a year of minimal survival, with no support from the local or federal government, business owners have no more resources to face an uncertain future and risk their families’ security.
Departing in Droves
That may be one of the reasons so many residents are leaving the city. San Francisco, which was once the land of opportunity, where there was always something to see and do and an entrepreneur’s dream, has changed significantly. Instead of paying tons of money for your mortgage or rent, in a city which at times—especially when you travel with the wrong private tour guide—can seem dirty and inhumane, many are leaving for greener pastures. With culture and arts on pause, along with an increasingly unrestful urban population, many are choosing to ride into the sunset.
For the first few months of the pandemic, in fact, all one saw on the streets were moving trucks. Even today, most weekends there is a household on the move. Many are heading to another part of the city (rents are 30% lower than their normal rate), yet many more are departing for new states, namely Texas, Florida, Nevada, or anywhere else to escape the crowds and taxes. As of today (December 2020), 80,000 of the 800,000 San Francisco residents have left.
Although we are receiving a few phone calls for private San Francisco tours, with the pandemic still in full swing, for the safety of our guides and guests, we still need to delay our services. This holds true for our private Yosemite tours as well. We’d love to, honestly, do nothing more than to show you around our home to give you a unique view of San Francisco and beyond, and to get the cash register ringing again, but safety is, and always will be, most important to us.
Besides, the feeling in the air is that we need to wait until this calamity blows over. Many other private tour companies in the city feel the same, but not everyone. You can still rent a bike at a few places, hire a private guide or tour Napa Valley with a sommelier. Once springtime comes around, the businesses that make it could be wide open.
The New Bay Area
As this virus continues to pummel our economy, and as the public and our politicians cannot agree on a safe route to solve the problems, many are choosing to wait until after winter to continue with what they have to do. The pandemic is still an unknown. When will the vaccine be available to everyone? Will it be effective in halting the spread of the virus? Maybe we will soon be able to once again represent our home the best we can. Many here feel optimistic, and we’ll see what happens as we continue to ride this wave.
One thing’s for sure, the sun will continue to rise each day and with it, we will continue to operate private Yosemite tours as soon as it’s safely possible, even if we need to rebuild. A lot of the San Francisco landscape may change, and we will need to wait on what happens once the pandemic is over.