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Can a simple fence stop San Francisco’s illegal night markets?

Urban street view with a traditional building on the left, metal fencing, trees, and walking pedestrians.
San Francisco’s shiny new fence outside of Arsicault Bakery in Civic Center. Is it the antidote to illegal night markets? | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

There’s a new fence in San Francisco’s Civic Center—and not the kind that buys and sells stolen goods.

The 5-foot-6 black metal fence appeared this week outside Arsicault Bakery on McAllister Street and is nearing completion as of Thursday morning.

The area outside the store is frequented after dark by an illegal night market, where even children have been spotted selling drugs and stolen goods.

But can a simple fence really stop the rampant scene of illegal activity that local workers say appears every night?

“They were out here last night,” said Plaza Snacks & Deli worker Ray, who refused to give a last name. “Outside the door is a city problem. We’re here to handle our business.”

A bustling night scene outside 'Plaza Snacks & Deli', with a crowd of people on the sidewalk.
The scene outside Plaza Snacks & Deli during a bustling illegal night market. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Arsicault worker Chris Van Wyk lives on the fifth floor above the bakery.

Van Wyk thought the fence was a novel step toward stopping the issues outside the store, which he says include fires being lit in the winter, which set the building’s fire alarm off. But he wasn’t entirely confident in the fence’s abilities to end illegal activity.

“The area’s become a real problem at night,” Van Wyk said. “[It’s] because we’ve got these floodlights on. They went up about two years ago, I think, and it seems to have attracted a lot of people because it’s bright. It’s very well-lit at night. Yeah. So people come, they gather, they sell whatever. They’re very noisy.”

When The Standard arrived at the new fence on Thursday at around 9:45 a.m., a small crowd had already formed a few feet away from the fence and appeared to be buying and selling goods.

Two individuals are engaged in a transaction, exchanging goods on a bustling city street with onlookers nearby.
People appear to buy and sell goods outside Ariscault Bakery on Thursday morning. A new fence to deter illegal night markets is being installed nearby. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

One man in the crowd, who refused to give his name, burst into laughter when told the fence was set up to try to deter illegal night market activity.

“There were people sleeping inside the fence last night,” he said. “There’s crackheads out here, it’s crazy.”

The Department of Public Works said they issued an encroachment permit for the fence to the 83 McAllister Home Owners Association, attempts to reach the association have been successful.

The Civic Center Community Benefit District installed the fence, according to a KTVU report. The district did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One Urban Alchemy employee told a workman installing the fence, “I give you all an A for effort.”

“Only an A?” a workman joked back.

George Kelly can be reached at