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San Francisco pop-ups open in bid to breathe life into downtown

Customers walk in and out of a pop-up shop in Downtown San Francisco. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

A bakery, ceramics shop and a nonprofit sewing academy-slash-clothing store are among the eclectic mix of more than 17 pop-ups opening as part of a plan to revitalize San Francisco’s struggling Downtown. 

The city’s Vacant to Vibrant initiative launches next Thursday, but organizers invited press along for a first look at the program ahead of opening day.

READ MORE: 17 New Pop-Up Shops To Open in Empty Downtown San Francisco Storefronts

The pop-ups are dotted around the Downtown core on Jackson, Pine, California and Montgomery streets—as well as in the Embarcadero Center and along the Embarcadero.

Holy Stitch Factory Fellowship proprietor Julian Prince Dash and his 8-month-old son, Julian Akira, stand inside his pop-up shop in the ground floor of an office tower at 100 California St. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

At a Jackson Street pop-up for Yonder Shop + Studio, a San Francisco handmade ceramics and glassware store, shoppers can buy bulb vases for $50 and glasses for $55, all made by owner Linda Fahey.

“During the pandemic, shopping habits changed and a lot of people got used to online shopping,” Fahey said. “We have to lure people back in.”

Fahey, whose store is on Cabrillo Street and 11th Avenue, said the program helps by giving her a second storefront in an area better known for retail than the comparatively sleepy Richmond District.

“Over there, we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Fahey said. “Applying for this was a no-brainer.”

Fahey was one of many interested in the pop-up program, which gives small businesses three months rent-free inside a vacant Downtown San Francisco commercial property as part of the Vacant to Vibrant program, which aims to jumpstart Downtown’s post-pandemic recovery. By the time applications were due, 850 businesses and community organizations applied to run pop-ups. 

Yonder Shop + Studio owner Linda Fahey stands inside her Jackson Street pop-up, which opens next week as part of the city's Vacant to Vibrant initiative. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Simon Bertrang said that the goal of the program is to turn Downtown into a regional arts and culture destination. Betrang’s organization, SF New Deal, runs the Vacant to Vibrant program and works with the city to handle lease negotiations and other red tape to make it as easy as possible for businesses to open their pop-ups.

“You bring your idea," Bertrang said. "We take care of the rest."

Mayor London Breed announced her goal to revitalize Downtown in February during her State of the City address.

Shops like Fahey’s are part of a soft launch before all pop-ups officially open their doors next week. Hours and locations are posted on the program’s website

City officials said Yonder, Devil’s Teeth Baking Company and Holy Stitch Factory Fellowship are open Thursday during the listed hours.

Handmade jeans at Holy Stitch start at $500. Proceeds go to youth between 13 and 25 years of age who make them by hand. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

At Holy Stitch, occupying the ground floor of an office building at 100 California St., customers can peruse a collection of handmade jeans, shirts and other clothes alongside the sewing machines used to make them. 

Holy Stitch is a nonprofit sewing school and garment factory where teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 25 hand-make clothes from donated garments and scrap textiles and the youth pocket 80% of the proceeds. Shirts on sale at the Downtown pop-up range from $20 to $125, while handmade jeans start at $500.

Some 80% of proceeds from clothing sales at Holy Stitch go to the youth who make them. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“It all goes to the names on the tag,” said Julian Prince Dash, who heads the organization. 

Dash said he’s been participating in other San Francisco business pop-up events as far back as Streetopia in 2011 and that pop-ups give his organization an opportunity to show off clothes and advertise classes in a more direct way than social media can offer.

“It gets us into different neighborhoods,” Dash said. “This is probably my 16th rodeo.”

Handmade cups and vases sit on display inside the Jackson Street pop-up for Yonder Shop + Studio. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The city has entertained the possibility of continuing the pop-up program beyond the current three months. Businesses that sign onto a long-term lease afterward may be eligible to get another free three months’ rent, even if they rent a different Downtown location, Bertrang said.

Sarah Dennis Phillips, head of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said for the Vacant to Vibrant program to continue, the pop-ups ultimately have to be profitable.

“These have to be self-sustaining without a free rent program,” Phillips said. “We feel that small businesses will be key to Downtown recovery. That’s what San Francisco is all about.”

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com