A trolley visits the Mission on Dec. 11, 2021 to promote local holiday shopping. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Covid-19 be damned, the holidays brought a surge in sales for local retailers, and some business owners are beginning to see the start of a recovery. 

“It was probably our biggest month of the whole year,” said Andres Gonzalez, co-owner of Dying Breed at 24th and Treat streets, which sells San Francisco- and Mission-focused clothing and accessories. “A lot of local people supported us as a local business.” 

His December sales were not only the highest in 2021, but Gonzalez said this was the best holiday season he’s seen in his five years running the store. 

Johnny Travis, co-owner of the clothing store State of Flux on Valencia Street near 23rd Street, agreed. “It was great for us,” he said. Travis said his store, which opened in late 2019, has yet to realize its full potential. But “given the situation, business has been growing,” he said. 

Some businesspeople said their sales weren’t quite at the level they were before the pandemic, but the numbers weren’t too far off. 

“This year was really close to 2019,” said Ruby Martinez, assistant manager at Sheikh shoe retailer, at 2627 Mission St., adding that this year’s sales far surpassed those of the 2020 holidays. “We think that people don’t really care about covid right now.” 

Jhon, manager of the nearby men’s clothing store New Colors Fashion at Mission and 17th streets, witnessed a “good” holiday business and agreed with Martinez that “People in this neighborhood, they don’t care about the [omicron] variant.”

For the same reason, Martinez said a big concern in her store is still around getting customers to consistently wear masks, in part to ensure that other shoppers feel comfortable being in the store. 

Bobbi Williams, Director of Operations at Natural Resources, a baby store at 1051 Valencia St. that offers maternity and paternity classes, was cautious about being too optimistic. Despite higher sales than she had expected this season, the 33-year-old store was still not back to pre-pandemic times, she said. 

“It actually went well,” Williams laughed, surprised. “We had a nice holiday season!” She wondered if maybe the omicron variant “hit late enough” to prevent a loss of holiday sales. Her regulars showed up, and she saw a good amount of new customers through foot traffic. 

Long-established restaurants, like Liam’s Restaurant and Wan Kee Restaurant on Mission, though less fortunate than Natural Resources, also enjoyed a thriving holiday with its regular customers.

But, while the majority of businesses we spoke with recounted positive experiences this year, especially when compared to last year’s holiday, a few are still struggling. 

The Sycamore gastropub at Mission and Sycamore streets was one of these, and sales at Mission Comics and Art, on Mission Street between 18th and 19th streets, were down 30 percent compared to pre-pandemic level, said owner Leef Smith. “A lot of people are staying at home and not going out,” he said. 

Once her store reopened after its initial closure in 2020, Juana Laurel from the Peruvian store Qosqo Maky said that customers came to support her with their business. But these days, Laurel said, the shop on Mission Street near 21st Street is making half of what it did in 2018 and 2019. More shoplifters have made matters worse. 

The holidays were “muy tranquilo,” Laurel said; there was no noticeable increase in sales through the end of the year, which is historically when the store sees lots of business. 

And now, as San Francisco faces its biggest covid spike yet, the future is again uncertain. “It was feeling good” the past few months, said Williams, trailing off. “And now… we’ll see.” 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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