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San Francisco business bounces back but tourism lags

San Francisco is rebounding but tourism lags
San Francisco is rebounding but tourism lags 02:12

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Tourism officials say leisure travel should meet or exceed pre-pandemic levels this year.

So what is it looking like now for San Francisco businesses that depend on those dollars to survive?

The rhythmic sounds of the crab crackers and the steamy aroma of seafood still lure customers to Fisherman's Wharf but not like they used to.

"We're the only ones open and I have empty tables inside and there's not a lot of people here (and) it's Mother's Day," said Don McFarland of Sabella & La Torre restaurant at Jefferson and Taylor streets on the Wharf.

Vendors say only about a third of crab stands are open on Taylor Street.

McFarland is still waiting for a tourism boost that hasn't materialized to keep Sabella & La Torre open late into the night as it had been for decades.

"Most of these people are local. It's not people from other places coming in. I saw some people from Germany and one person from Canada this week," McFarland said.

Pier 39 officials say credit card data shows about one quarter of tourists these days are international.

That's a vast improvement but not at the level it once was.

"We were running in the single digits, low teens at most last summer and, day-to-day, we didn't see much foreign visitation at all. But it's a pretty significant change and I think that bodes well for the summer," said Pier 39 president and CEO Taylor Safford.

Safford says the Pier is running at 90 percent occupancy but at the Wharf, more than one-third of store fronts remain empty.

The Blanco family spent this Mother's Day together and to support one of their favorite eateries.

"We would come here on weekdays and you used to see crowds on weekdays but you don't see that anymore on weekdays," said Cecilia Blanco.

McFarland runs a staff that's about one third of what he once employed and isn't even close to opening early in the morning when demand was once there.

"There's no quitting in this family. We don't quit. We'll survive," McFarland said .

Tourism officials and vendors say next month will be a better gauge of whether leisure tourism will rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

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