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SF Will Give You Thousands To Open Pop-Ups in Empty Downtown Storefronts. Here’s How To Apply 

Written by Garrett LeahyPublished Apr. 17, 2023 • 10:01am
Pedestrians walk through San Francisco’s Financial District, which has had a surge of vacant storefront properties, on Nov. 17, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The latest plan to breathe life into Downtown San Francisco’s empty stores, dubbed "Vacant to Vibrant," launched Monday and will pay landlords and entrepreneurs to invigorate the beleaguered district with art and pop-up shops.

Those running the pop-ups will get three months of free rent and grants of between $3,000 and $8,000. The city aims to have the first pop-ups open this summer. 

Applications are open, here’s what you’ll need to do to apply.

Applying To Open a Pop-Up

Those wanting to open a pop-up will need to identify themselves, discuss their idea and prove their relevant experience.

Next, the application will be evaluated and scored by an advisory committee made up of small business owners, artists and representatives from arts institutions, community-based organizations with a presence Downtown, and property owners.

High-scoring applicants will have their pop-up ideas pitched to interested property owners Downtown, and if they’re selected, the process of securing the spaces will begin.

Landlords who want to host a pop-up at their vacant Downtown commercial spaces have to apply, too, and describe the property and what kind of pop-ups they’d envision in their spaces. While all empty Downtown properties are eligible for the program, properties under 5,000 square feet are being prioritized. To be eligible, a property must be at street level, equipped with Wi-Fi and have one or more restroom facilities along with basic utilities. 

A pedestrian is reflected in an empty storefront in San Francisco's Financial District on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Pop-ups get a three-month lease to operate at the property with free rent, along with a grant of up to $8,000 for any relevant expenses. Those hosting the pop-up out of their commercial space will get a $5,000 grant from the city. 

The grants are funded with $710,000 from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, which is running the program alongside nonprofit SF New Deal. 

SF New Deal will provide those selected to open a pop-up with a project manager to oversee the permitting process and liaise with the property owner or manager.

The first round of applications closes June 1, with selections happening later that month. Applications generally take 6-8 weeks for a response and are accepted on a rolling basis, according to the program’s website.

Empty Downtown

Pedestrians meander the Financial District in Downtown San Francisco. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The plan to activate Downtown with pop-ups is part of Mayor London Breed’s plan to revitalize the struggling district, which she announced during her State of the City Address in February.

READ MORE: Breed’s State of the City Address in 3 Minutes

Plans for reviving San Francisco’s Downtown come after the pandemic gutted the area’s offices as the tech sector suddenly went remote. The transition has stoked fears of a commercial real estate crash and “doom loop” in San Francisco as many firms leave offices, including industry titan Salesforce

Alexander Book Company, an independent bookstore near the Montgomery BART station, also recently announced it will close at the end of April. The bookstore has been oriented toward office workers: It’s open Monday through Friday and closed on weekends. 

While Downtown has struggled with business closures brought about by the pandemic, other neighborhoods are seeing small businesses bounce back, including neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at

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