Photo by Natalia Gurevich

On June 15, the day indoor retail relaunched in the city, some stores on Valencia Street lit up again with freshly curated spaces and colorful opening announcements plastered in the windows. Others, though, kept their doors locked. 

Stores must adhere to city guidelines to reopen by restructuring the space to maintain social distancing or limiting the number of customers to 50 percent capacity. 

But health regulations mean costs, and some, like Paxton Gate, the curiosity shop that has been selling items like animal skeletons and taxidermied bugs since 1992, decided to stick with curbside service.

The owner, Sean Quigley, said that the additional staff needed to sanitize items and oversee the capacity numbers added up to more than projected sales. 

Paxton Gate now employs five full-time workers, thanks to a Paycheck Protection Program loan,  but that represents a fraction of its staff. Those working now are busy with the curbside business, but since the pandemic, Paxton Gate’s sales have dropped 90 percent, Quigley said.

“Throughout the year, we hover right around break-even [and make] it up in the holiday season,” Quigley said in an email. “With only 10 percent or so of our normal sales coming in, even with just half the staff we’re operating at a huge loss.”

Though Quigley hopes eventually to rehire all his staff, he worries that the hourly wage Paxton Gate can afford to pay right now is not enough of an incentive to lure some back from unemployment. 

They are not alone. About 20 percent of Americans receive more money from unemployment checks than they would have earned working full time, according to a University of Chicago Illinois analysis

Quigley said that on top of that, many employees might want to work part-time to spend more time at home where they can shelter-in-place. 

Most folks are worried and apprehensive, so when combined with the option of staying home and making more it’s a pretty easy decision,” Quigley said.

Paxton Gate employees currently make above San Francisco minimum wage. However, the city increases its minimum wage to $16.07 an hour on July 1, and Quigley has yet to decide if he would proportionally bump his workers’ pay. 

A few blocks north, at Serendipity, indoor hours have returned to normalcy but sales have yet to follow. Lisa Sherratt, the owner, is worried. 

Pre-pandemic, Sherratt made between 50 and 100 sales a day, she said as she arranged the store’s brightly colored cards on the shelves. On Monday, she made 10. 

“It used to be perfectly profitable,” Sherratt said.

It’s not only sales that have set her back.  Already, Sherratt missed April and May’s rent. Her landlord cut her June rent by 75 percent and asked her to pay just under half of July’s. Still, she’s uncertain of the store’s future. She is currently the store’s sole employee. 

“Today I am paying $20 an hour for a babysitter and I am not earning anything,” Sherratt said.

She’s unsure how long she will last.  

“I cannot [keep the storefront open without making sales], personally, financially for more than two weeks. It’s just too expensive,” Sherratt said. 

When curbside pickup became possible, the store only operated two hours a day. Sherratt lives in Moss Beach and sometimes the order amount was not worth her trip up to the city. 

As a last-ditch attempt to recover some profits, she opened a pop-up store at her home on Mother’s Day weekend, which is usually one of Serendipity’s most profitable holidays. 

Sherratt said that she hoped customers recognized her dedication through those efforts.

“I’ve been trying to keep people happy and remind them who we are, I know their habits are different now,” Sherratt said. 

Other stores said they faced few setbacks during the coronavirus. 

Nice Kicks, a collector sneaker store on Valencia Street, opened its doors widely on Monday.

“It felt weird. I was sitting on my couch for two and a half months, to selling front-door only, and having people walk in the store,” said Kevin Laster, the store manager. 

To Laster and his employee, Miles Irving-Austin, returning to full, indoor retail felt strange. The store looked less familiar after they moved merchandise around so shoppers could observe social distancing. 

On Monday, a few regulars had already returned to look through the stock. Laster said that true sneakerheads will line up for the latest shoes no matter what. 

When the store released the coveted Air Jordan 13 Flint, the shoe sold out within an hour, Laster said. The store also put up a “walk-in” pick-up station at the front door before indoor retail was allowed that attracted steady traffic overall, Laster said. 

Online sales doubled, too, which compensated for the shortfalls caused by the closed storefront. 

Unlike Paxton Gate and Serendipity, the store Nice Kicks is owned by a parent company called Shoe Palace, which takes care of rent and utilities.

The main impact coronavirus had on the shoe store was that Laster had to cut back overall hours and furlough some workers, although none of them were let go. 

Laster said he doesn’t anticipate a closure of Nice Kicks or a return to front-door pick-up anytime soon. 

“It’s not our concern,” Laster said. “We’re trying to be more optimistic here. But I understand why the home-grown stores would feel like that though, because you never know. Tomorrow they might say all retail will close.”

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Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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