Rent-free pop-ups prove persistent in San Francisco

Artists, nonprofits and small businesses in eight temporary storefronts extend their leases

Rent-Free Pop-Ups Prove Persistent in San Francisco
Office of Economic and Workforce Development's Sarah Dennis Phillips with rendering of 4 Embarcadero Center (City and Countyof San Francisco, Boston Properties, Getty)

Free rent for pop-up businesses in San Francisco has given a lift to the city’s Downtown that may become longer term.

Pop-ups in eight of the nine temporary storefronts in the Embarcadero Center involved in the city’s “Vacant to Vibrant” program have extended their leases beyond the initial three-month term, the San Francisco Business Times reported. Their leases now extend to at least March.

Officials also announced the opening of applications for the program’s next cohort of tenants, targeted to open this spring and summer. Those applications are due by Feb. 23.

Applicants to the first cohort who were not selected will receive automatic consideration. The program is also inviting property owners to make space available for participants.

“(Local entrepreneurs) are proving that Downtown can be a place of opportunity for artists, nonprofits and small businesses,” Sarah Dennis Phillips, executive director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said in a statement. “Their energy is creating new experiences that enliven it as a true neighborhood.”

The program, which started with 17 pop-up retailers in the Embarcadero Center and surrounding streets in the Financial District, aims to inject art, culture and a small-business feel into needy areas.

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Halfway into Vacant to Vibrant, many said last month it has breathed life into empty Downtown storefronts, while giving local businesses a way to introduce foods and goods to new customers.

The program, which offers free rent and grant coverage for some utility and tenant improvement expenses as well as other resources, launched in April as a way to turn Downtown’s vacant storefronts into short-term launching stations for artists and small businesses.

Program participants received up to $8,000 in city-sponsored grant funding and technical assistance resources. Property owners were provided $5,000 by the city to cover the pop-up tenants’ utility expenses and tenant improvements.

Vacant to Vibrant tenants extending their leases include Devil’s Teeth Bakery, Holy Stitch, KALW-FM 91.7, Creativity Explored, The Mellow and Victoria Heilweil & Phil Spitler, Rosalind Bakery, Teranga and Whack Donuts.

— Dana Bartholomew

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