Shared Spaces Program Offers Relief to Struggling Businesses

By Becky Lee

On Sunday, Sept. 21, a light layer of fog wafted through the outer avenues, while The Riptide’s outdoor DJ played what a radio station might describe as “today’s hits and yesterday’s favorites.” It was the second Beachside Taraval pop-up organized by Sunset Mercantile. The inaugural event had temperatures topping 100 degrees, and the following week was canceled due to bad air quality. 

Beachside Taraval Whitecap Becky SB 10-20The Beachside Taraval event draws a crowd at the White Cap and Underdogs Too on Sept. 21. Taraval Street between 36th and 37th avenues is closed to traffic every Sunday to allow businesses to safely serve their customers outdoors. Photo by Becky Lee.

The event is the latest in a string of outdoor markets and pop-ups facilitated by the citywide Shared Spaces program, a collaboration between the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and SF Supervisor Gordon Mar’s office. 

According to the SFMTA website, “Shared Spaces allows merchants to use sidewalks, full or partial streets, and other nearby public spaces like parks, parking lots and plazas for restaurant pick-up and other neighborhood retail activities.” An interactive map shows proposed and approved sites for outdoor restaurant and retail spaces. 

Beachside Taraval takes place every Sunday on Taraval Street between 46th and 47th avenues. In the Inner Sunset, Irving Street is closed between 19th and 20th avenues four days per week: Thursdays and Fridays, 4-11 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. 

Awadalla Awadalla is the owner of SF Hole In The Wall Pizza on Irving Street and is the vice president of the Outer Sunset Merchants Association. Adwadalla says business increased about 15% when he set up his parklet after SF Mayor London Breed streamlined the process last June. He thinks he might be getting  another 10-15% boost on days that they close the street.  

He said he had always wanted a parklet, but before the pandemic it was not easy to get the permits for them. 

“The hoops you had to go through in order to get one were extremely, extremely hard and expensive,” Awadalla said. “It took even a year to get a parklet in front of your business.” 

The community organization People of Parkside/ Sunset (POPS) helped local merchants reach out to the necessary agencies like the SFMTA and Department of Public Works (DPW) to get the right permits. Albert Chow, owner of the Great Wall Hardware store and president of POPS, said the organization also gave Beachside Taraval seed money to get the event off the ground.

“We all need all the help we can get right now,” Chow said. “And that’s what we’re doing. We’re just circling the wagons and trying to support everybody.”

At Andytown’s Taraval location, Shawn Baird, the new general manager, has configured a contactless ordering and pick-up station through the front window. 

“People are really making an effort to keep showing up,” he said. “It’s heartwarming.”

Doug Marschke is the owner of Underdogs on Irving Street and Underdogs Too on Taraval, both of which are participating in the Shared Spaces program. While Underdogs Too has always had outdoor seating, the additional five tables at the Irving Street location are “saving that business because our storefront is so tiny,” Marschke said. 

Restaurant closures “affect the whole supply chain, the farmers who are providing, the vendors who are selling,” he added, reinforcing the role Shared Spaces plays in lifting up the broader community.

Right outside The Riptide, Fleet Wood, a lifestyle apparel company and full-service screen printing shop, was selling vintage-inspired clothing and printed masks. The company was founded by Nico, a graphic designer who was inspired by her father’s vintage T-shirt collection. 

Nico, who found the Beachside Taraval event through Sunset Mercantile, said the pop-up brought “much-needed positive energy.” Even though everyone was wearing masks as they strolled through the street, “you can tell they’re smiling.” 

Thomas K. Pendergast contributed to this story.

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