How one San Francisco street survived the pandemic

San Francisco — Within an area of ​​just three blocks, hundreds of people packed up.

He held jars of honey, cans of fresh peas and bouquets of flowers. Bags embossed with ripe peaches, eggplants and cherries hang over the shoulders.

Other than a few masked faces, the bustling Clement Street Farmers Market on a recent Sunday felt like a pre-pandemic relic.

The market has gone uninterrupted through every surge of the coronavirus, and restaurants and shops on Clement Street, the main artery of the Richmond district in San Francisco’s northwest corner, have been spared the financial ruin seen in other big cities. last 19 months.

Few, if any, businesses on the street have closed permanently, according to Morgan Mapes, president of the Clement Street Merchants Association. Unlike downtown San Francisco, which is now largely desolate, this commercial strip was never dependent on tourists or the business of office workers.

“We’re in a lovely place,” Mapes told me. “We cater to our neighbors and our residents.”

The self-contained nature of Clement Street offers not only how it survived the pandemic, but it is also a window into how cities may change over the next few years. The megacity where people commute for hours to work, play and shop will soon be over.

Before I move on, here’s some background on Clement Street: It runs two and a half miles from the northwest corner of the peninsula to the east, and most of its length is lined with shops.

Clement Street is often considered San Francisco’s second Chinatown; Maybe you’ve been there to eat dim sum or soup dumplings. It’s also where you’ll find the beloved Green Apple Books, the ever-popular Burma superstar restaurant, and Schubert’s Bakery, which dates back more than a century.

Just before the pandemic, in January 2020, I stayed on Clement Street while I was visiting San Francisco, because housing is more affordable in a quieter (and extra foggy) part of the city. I remember lovingly never having to leave the road to find food, go to the movies or meet friends at the bar.

I recently learned that this feature has a name: 15 Minute City. The concept, which was featured by the mayor of Paris in his 2020 re-election campaign, would make neighborhoods a complete social ecosystem, with offices, grocery stores, parks and doctors’ offices within a short walk or bike ride of each resident. as included.

Maps believes the structure was crucial to Clement Street’s success during the pandemic. Even during the lockdown, people living in the area continued to buy groceries and other items from nearby shops.

“I don’t really leave the neighborhood much,” said Mapes, who owns a vintage clothing store on Clement. “You have everything here.”

When I recently returned to Clement Street, the area appeared mostly untouched by the pandemic.

There was more seating outside on the sidewalks, but the restaurant was as crowded as ever. Customers scoured in and out of boutique shops. A neighborhood cafe where I saw a group of men playing cards early in the morning still looked like it was serving as a town square.

Although the “15-minute city” idea predates the coronavirus, it has gained traction during the pandemic as people spend more time in their communities and fear resuming their formerly long commutes.

“The pandemic has led us to think about how to move differently, consume differently, live differently,” Carlos Moreno, a professor at the Sorbonne and the driving force behind the idea, told the BBC. “We are finding that by doing things differently, we have more free time, we have more time to be with our family or friends. We are discovering and appreciating our neighborhoods more. are.”

Moreno believes that cities will never go back to the way they once were, and that’s a good thing. He says there will be a greater emphasis on walking and biking, and a greater mix of residential and commercial spaces as services get closer to where people live.

Proponents of the 15-Minute City think it will make us even happier, as we get to know our neighbors instead of going from one thing to another.

This sense of community was already on display on Clement Street. After visiting the farmers’ market that recent Sunday, I met Maps at her store as it closed for the evening.

When we sat inside, a man parked his bicycle in front of the shop. He started sweeping and washing the windows in the front of the store, a service he clearly wanted to offer for free.

Today’s travel tip comes from Elizabeth Watson-Sammons, a reader who lives in Menlo Park. Watson-Semmons recommends the city of San Juan Bautista in San Benito County:

It’s midway between San Francisco and Monterey and is easily missed, but the sign to turn off Highway 101 is worth seeing. My favorites are the San Juan Bakery, from international cuisine to breads and pastries and Jardin Restaurant – Mexican food served on a gorgeous large patio. The mission is one of the oldest in continuous use of those established by Spanish priests. Its tower is where Jimmy Stewart confronts his demons in “Vertigo”. It’s a beautiful tour, along with a tour of the living history buildings that bring California to life. Mission Cemetery overlooks the San Andreas Fault.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions at CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


A portrait inspired by the bright colors of Los Angeles.


What are you favorite Dodgers vs Giants memories? Share with us what teams mean to you at CAtoday@nytimes.com.


Los Angeles’ favorite car-free event, Ciclavia, celebrated its 11th anniversary on Sunday.

Thousands biked, walked and skated from downtown Los Angeles to MacArthur Park and then to Chinatown – the same route participants took during the first Syclavia on October 10, 2010.

The anniversary is extra special as it also doubles as a 10-year celebration, as the event was canceled for most of last year due to the pandemic.


Thank you for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. – Soumya

ps is here Today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: in a way, informally (5 characters).

Briana Scalia and Mariel Wemsley contributed to California Today. you can reach the team CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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