A Roadmap to Reignite San Francisco’s Sad Retail Market

Jun 3, 2022

Last week I attended the annual Innovating Commerce Serving Communities (ICSC) retail convention in Las Vegas.  It had been three years since I was last there and did not know what to expect.  Registration was half of the pre-covid costs and with all the uncertainty hitting the retail market, it was anyone’s guess as to what we could expect attending the convention.

The convention was previously known as ‘Council of Shopping Centers’ and was the largest convention of retailers in the country. The convention includes developers, shopping center owners, brokers, investors, cities, counties, and states all promoting their various retail market opportunities.

I was pleasantly surprised.  The overall mood of the convention was positive. There was a general feeling that retail was on the right road back and that there are certainly opportunities for retailers both new and old to expand their businesses. My goal was to seek developers and investors and see what investment opportunities both selling and buying were available to me as a broker. I was also gauging retail interest in the San Francisco Bay Area market.

On Monday alone I walked twenty thousand steps visiting booth after booth looking for opportunities. Although I left with good leads, it was very apparent that California and San Francisco were not on the hit list of interest by most of the investors or retailers. They were mainly interested in the rest of the country.  Some notable exceptions were the Fresno and Central valley markets in California.

Following the convention, it was clear to me that for San Francisco to reignite its dire retail market, we must go on the road and sell our city once again.

It’s sad to face the fact that we are no longer a retail “destination,” rather a graveyard for retailers who no longer want to be here.  For that to change, we must change the perception of our city.  Here are two actionable ways we can win back retailers.

Convention Prescence. First, we need to attend every ICSC event wherever they are located throughout the year and have a booth there. We need to show investors and retailers that we are serious and want their business back.

Incentive Packages. We need to create an incentive package that includes expediating permits, tax breaks to both landlords and retailers that open new shops within the next two years. A security and cleanliness plan that our retailers can count on to take away the public view that are streets are dirty and unsafe. We need to have our city officials embrace this plan so that retailers do not feel that they are entering a market without the city truly behind them.

Recovery will be difficult, but if one or two larger retailers reenter our marketplace, others will follow.  We must make concessions to get these first retailers back. By our city hitting the road and promoting our incentives at events such as ICSC, we can bring retail back to San Francisco.

Image via Pexels


Written by: Hans Hansson

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Hans Hansson is President of Starboard Commercial Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email [email protected] or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website, https://www.hanshansson.com