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COVID: Small Businesses in San Francisco's Financial District Await Return of Downtown Workforce

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Many of the smaller businesses in downtown San Francisco are counting down the days until the larger ones bring their workers to their office spaces, but some experts believe that is still likely a few months away.

"The office worker population -- the daytime population not being there -- is clearly affecting other parts of the economy," said Jeff Bellisario, the executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. "As we talk to people, January seems to be where many companies are landing when they talk about the return to the office."

Leonid Plotkin, who owns Financial District Haircut by Leo, hopes the pace of life -- and business -- will continue to pick up.

"I'm very optimistic. I think the Financial District will bounce back. It's just happening so slowly," he said.

Pre-pandemic, his main clientele were people who worked daytime jobs in the Financial District. So when most businesses went remote, he lost about half of his business.

"It only will come back when offices will start filling up again," he said.

It is starting to happen, but it's happening slower in San Francisco than in other major cities. For example, Boston Properties owns 38 buildings in the Bay Area, eight of which are in San Francisco -- including the Embarcadero Center and the Salesforce Tower.

Only 18% of their tenants have returned to their office spaces so far, the lowest of all of their regions, according to a company spokesperson.

Bellisario said there is one indicator they're keeping a close eye on.

"We're always looking at traffic numbers, because they tend to correlate with economic activity. When the economy is hot, traffic gets worse. When unemployment is high, traffic tends to abate a little bit," he said. "For us, that's a key barometer for people coming back into the office."

Bellisario explained when people do inevitably come back to the office, many companies are looking to a hybrid model with some remote work and some in-person work.

"Even as we get more people coming back, San Francisco is not immediately going to return to normal, even as all businesses are opening their doors. We will see that daytime population being lower across the city, particularly in the Financial District and in SoMa," he said.

Union Square Alliance Executive Director Marisa Rodriguez tells KPIX people returning to their offices will prove to be beneficial in that neighborhood as well.

"It's vital, really, to the health of a lot of our small businesses. They rely heavily on the foot traffic and people. They want to come out, they want to be here to serve the community, and they're looking forward to the return to the office," said Rodriguez.


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