San Francisco’s changing demographics, tricky economics, and transforming neighborhoods are requiring retailers to adapt, but many are rising to the challenge. The city has become one of the most popular destinations for “clicks-to-bricks” retail stores; San Francisco is tied with Los Angeles in second place for where e-commerce retail opens their first physical location (as of 2018).
One characteristic of successful stores is that they have a story in addition to a popular product; examples include Warby Parker, with 2 SF locations, and Allbirds. Both started as online-only retail (eyeglasses and shoes respectively) and then opened flagship brick-and-morter stores.
Another winning strategy is anything that will get millennials in the door: experiential retail, pop-ups, fitness centers, and quality food and drink stores like Onedome, CorePower Yoga, and Barry’s Bootcamp are doing well enough to open new locations.
The downtown area is strongest, with stores targeting millennial workers in locations a little off of Market but still within easy reach. The Marina and Pacific Heights are also profitable locations, loci for millennials and far away from centers of homelessness.
It may soon get much easier to open retail stores in the city; Mayor London Breed has announced a new initiative to speed up the permitting process for small business. The ordinance eases zoning codes, eliminates duplicative inspections, and standardizes local laws to match state regulations. In addition, according to the Mayor’s office, “The proposed investments for Fiscal Years (FY) 2019-20 and 2020-21 include $9 million to provide small businesses with access to capital through low-interest loans, resources for storefront and tenant improvements, and new funding to provide small businesses with financial assistance for regulatory fees.”