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San Jose's downtown revitalization faring better than San Francisco, Oakland

San Jose faring better with its downtown revitalization than other Bay Area cities
San Jose faring better with its downtown revitalization than other Bay Area cities 05:32

As post-pandemic downtown recoveries continue, the Bay Area's three major cities are experiencing two realities at the same time.

They're slow to recover during the week during the typical work hours of 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. but are seeing success in the evenings, according to data from the University of Toronto's School of Cities.

The team at the School of Cities has tracked downtown recoveries since shortly after the onset of the pandemic by utilizing cell phone data to measure activity levels, rather than solely office vacancy rates.

San Jose is the furthest along in terms of recovery, per the data. It sits at around 85% of pre-pandemic activity during the weekday working hours. However, in the evenings, it surges to 116% of pre-pandemic activity.

Daytime is still a challenge for many small businesses, as hybrid work's permanence has taken people out of downtown areas during the daytime. While the problem is somewhat less pronounced in San Jose than it is in San Francisco and in Oakland, Randy Musterer, the owner of Sushi Confidential, said they're leaning into new ways of getting creative to make up for it.

"You can't just open up your doors anymore and hope that people come in. You have to be creative," he said.

He's leaning into hosting more events as a way to fill the gap.

"A lot of our other locations have been able to eventually start thriving," he said. "The last of them is the downtown San Jose location."

However, on weeknights in downtown San Jose, it's a different story.

"Dinner time, and then, the bar and night club industries are thriving down here," Musterer said. "Definitely seeing a lot more people down here in the evenings and late night."

While his other South Bay locations seem to be busier earlier in the evenings, he said his downtown San Jose location sees its sales peak between 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

That said, he still isn't doing better than he was before the pandemic.

"The cost of everything has gone up," he said. "So, even though now our sales are at pre-pandemic levels, it doesn't mean that profitability is there yet. So, we're striving for that."

For Musterer, he believes the biggest impact on revitalization would be to have more people working in downtown.

"I know there's a big push with Downtown San Jose trying to become the A.I. hub of not only Silicon Valley but the world," he said. "There's a lot of time, money, and energy being put into the downtown core to really revitalize it."

Allison Hallas, a hybrid worker who commutes from Pleasanton to San Jose a few times a week, said she really enjoys being in downtown San Jose when she is there.

"This area – It's great," she said.

As a mother, hybrid work does work well for her lifestyle.

"It's much better with the flexibility than having to come in every single day," she said.

She, too, is rooting for San Jose to continue its upward trajectory with recovery. She thinks activity levels could continue to rise as the city continues to tackle the homelessness crisis. On her walk to the office, she showed us an area along the Guadalupe River that has been cleaned up in the last year.

"Actually, right here, there used to be a huge homeless camp. They've done a great job. Much different than when I first moved here and started," she said. "You don't have to worry as much about your safety."

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