Bobbi Williams, director of operations at Natural Resources, poses for a picture outside her shop at 1051 Valencia St.
Bobbi Williams, director of operations at Natural Resources, poses for a picture outside her shop at 1051 Valencia St. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz)

’Tis the season — and the third Christmas season since the pandemic hit — but for many retailers along the Mission District’s Valencia Street corridor, holiday sales have still not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Mission Local spoke to more than a dozen merchants and employees on Valencia Street from 25th to Market streets and found that, for most, there was little change in sales from 2021. They suspected many causes, including rainy weather over the weekends, smaller budgets, canceled flights and other possibilities.

Without being asked, two business owners mentioned seeing fewer foreign tourists. 

“It’s been rough,” said Avi Ehrlich, the owner of Silver Sprocket, the comic book shop at 1018 Valencia St.

Christmas season sales barely surpassed last year’s at the comic book shop. But last year, he was operating out of a different Valencia storefront, and the new location is almost triple the size, he said.

Meanwhile, safety concerns surrounding the pandemic prevent the shop from hosting the larger events planned for the new space, such as drawing nights, classes and art shows.

Though he hadn’t operated a storefront along the corridor before the pandemic, Ehrlich has lived on Valencia Street for almost 15 years, and said he’s noticed that the sidewalks this holiday season have been far less crowded compared to the winter holidays before the pandemic. 

“The sentiment I’ve gotten talking to other retailers is that it’s been super bleak,” added Ehrlich, who’s also a member of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association.

He’s also noticed fewer tourists who speak foreign languages — and he’s not alone.

“It’s just not feeling as festive as usual.”

Matt HOrt, Valencia Farmers Market

Jonathan Plotzker-Kelly, the founder of the skincare shop Heliotrope at 415 Valencia St., has also noticed a drop in foreign tourists, a customer base that his shop depends on.

Business fell by half or more when the pandemic hit and, although sales rose somewhat last year, sales this holiday season didn’t hit last year’s mark, he said.

“It’s not like it’s the end of the world, but I think most retailers are having to figure out how else to make money … online, negotiating with landlords, not hiring as many people — all of this, and more,” he said.

Frances Chang, an artist at City Art Cooperative Gallery at 828 Valencia St., said that business fell by around three-quarters during the Christmas holiday season of 2020. She estimates that sales slowly improved through 2021, until they caught up to pre-pandemic sales during the Christmas holiday.

But this year, she and her friends agreed that the holiday sales fell from 2021. For her, she said, sales were a little lower, while her friends think it’s a significant drop.

She also heard that November sales were nearly half as low as those prior to the pandemic. It appeared that people had smaller budgets this time around, she added. They’d go for more affordable items and spend more time thinking about purchases, particularly when buying multiple gifts.

Things also aren’t as they used to be at Natural Resources, the nonprofit for parents and babies at 1051 Valencia St., which has a large retail offering.

Prior to the pandemic, it’d be more common for families to spend hours in the space, which has an area where parents can hang out with their babies — perhaps while having tea, feeding their babies or using the bathroom.

That’s less the case these days.

“We love being in the neighborhood, and love the families we work with,”  said Bobbi Williams, the director of operations. “Now, it’s harder (to operate) because you don’t have extra support, and expenses are going up.”

The nonprofit added online sales after the pandemic, but these, too, have decreased, she said.

“My impression overall is that it’s not as busy as it needs to be; not back to pre-pandemic levels at all,” she said. “And, I don’t feel growth this year over last year, or if it was, it wasn’t that big a jump.”

Williams considered a number of possibilities why sales haven’t recovered, she said. She said it feels like earlier in the pandemic, people were more eager to support local businesses and actively tried to do that, but it’s less the case now. Williams also wonders if families have left the city, and thinks customers could be hesitant to bring their babies into shared spaces, given that isolation during the pandemic could have reduced their immunity to diseases.

And, while the shop offers classes on topics such as parenting and infant development to families, competition has increased as the pandemic caused classes to shift online.

Meanwhile, at Dog Eared Books at 900 Valencia St, sales slightly improved, compared to last year, said Daniel Melendez, an employee at the shop since early 2020.

Popular holiday sales include cookbooks and children’s books. His coworker added that one of the current favorites is bell hooks’ “All About Love.”.


Sales at clothing shops have increased compared to last year, but not dramatically. And they still don’t appear to be at pre-pandemic levels.

That’s the case at Afterlife Collective. The increase wasn’t dramatic; perhaps by about a quarter, said co-owner Joshua Valenzuela.

And that was after a year of expansion for the shop, which is a partnership between the shops Afterlife Boutique and Super Thrift Bros. Since the last Christmas holiday, the two shops merged and moved into a larger space in a busier location — from next to Señior Sesig by 21st Street, to a much busier spot, between 16th and 17th streets — an area where Valenzuela estimates the foot traffic increased by about half.

“They’ve been not a lot better, but better,” said Valenzuela, who co-owned Super Thrift Bros. and worked at Afterlife Boutique prior to the merger.

Afterlife Collective co-owner Joshua Valenzuela poses for a picture inside his shop at 541 Valencia St. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

He also shopped for gifts at Afterlife Boutique as a customer prior to the pandemic.  He estimates that, compared to back then, Afterlife Collective appeared perhaps three-quarters as busy over the Christmas holiday.

Meanwhile, at the clothing shop Nooworks, the manager, Sydney, said that this holiday felt similar to the last one. But she did observe that people appeared a little more relaxed and excited to shop this time around, compared to the last, when the Omicron variant was spiking in San Francisco.

And, last holiday, a lot of shoppers came in earlier in the month, while this year, they came in later. She added that it felt like more people were buying for themselves for the holiday.

Reuben Verkamp, the manager at Taylor Stitch at 383 Valencia St., said that compared to 2021, this year’s holiday sales increased, but the improvement wasn’t huge.

“I would like to see a little more, but it’s definitely an improvement,” he said.


Sales have boomed across the perfume industry since the pandemic, and that has been the case for the Ministry of Scent at 973 Valencia St.

“We’ve had really fast rates of growth consistent for more than two years,” said shop owner Antonia Kohl. “It’s still growing. … This year, it’s maybe growing a little slower.”

Others she knows in the industry have experienced growth as well, she added.

The pandemic gave people time to try new samples and scents, and it gave them joy, she said. Some customers told her they’d have group Zoom sessions with friends where they tried different samples.

She’s also noticed an ongoing trend since before the pandemic of many more men getting into fragrances; whereas perhaps 40 percent of her customers were men, now it’s around 60 percent.

One alcoholic beverage shop in the Mission had sales triple in the first year of the pandemic, as bars stayed closed and people bought more from shops. Its sales have steadily decreased since then, however, and have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Convenience and Grocery Stores

Meanwhile, the winter holidays impact convenience and grocery stores differently.

At Valencia Grocery at 1300 Valencia St., holiday sales are a little better than last year’s — but are still at perhaps three-quarters of the holiday sales prior to the pandemic, which caused sales to plummet by more than half, said shop owner George Totah.

There’s an increase in sales for Thanksgiving, but after that, it tends to die down, Totah said. 

The Christmas holiday tends to be a tough time for the shop, which is about a block from Buena Vista Horace Mann Elementary School, ICA Cristo Rey Academy, and Synergy School. He suspects that the weather and airline cancellations play a role in the slow holidays, as well.

“The truck last week had ice on the windshield and top of the car,” he said. “Who’s gonna drink a goddamn beer?”

The pandemic also continues to hinder shipping and stocking; some candies are taking months to restock, while other items, such as Bulleit and Cazadores shots, are taking more than a year. 

Meanwhile, Saif, a relatively new employee at a cigar and liquor store along the corridor, said that the holidays were slower than other times of the year — perhaps 80 percent less during Thanksgiving, and around half of the people at Christmas.

“Last night, I felt like I was in a zombie city or something like that,” he said.

Finally, at Valencia Farmers Market, assistant manager Matt Hort said that last year’s holiday sales were similar to those of 2019.

But this time around, sales dropped around 40 percent over the winter holiday, compared to last year, he said. Because this year didn’t feel as festive as usual, they also cut back on holiday supplies of items such as cranberries.

He noticed the emptiness on Dec. 7 or 8, and closed the shop on Christmas Eve for the first time since opening in 1985.

“It’s just not feeling as festive as usual,” he said. 

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David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. This holiday season seemed less festive than the past two years. i find the ‘we are in this together’ vibe has sailed and that some folks learned nothing (health preventionwise) from the pandemic.

  2. Lack of parking and concerns about safety and crime. These concerns are real, but mention building another public garage to make up for all the parking that has been eliminated, or more cops on the beat, and the name calling starts…..

  3. i want to Valencia to see my brother at the crown hotel it is a bad area and I dirty ass building i ever been in my life never again

  4. SFMTA’S war on the automobile is having some serious casualties. Nobody’s going to buy anything if they have to carry it on a bus or bicycle.

    Congratulations to Jeff Tumlin. Mission accomplished.

    1. If your business relies on rich people driving into the 2nd densest city in the US and parking, I don’t think it’s the bicyclist fault.

      1. I understand your desire to turn it into a personal, “us vs. them” question, complete with righteous resentment of the wealthy, but it’s not logical. It’s just a bunch of red herrings.

        No matter your income level, doing any kind of holiday shopping via bus or car is not practical. Try buying gifts for a few young kids, and you’ll understand. People are going to go somewhere else. It’s a rational choice.

    2. That’s for sure, and he is planning to take out 1200 more parking spaces to allow more room for buses. It’s another example of taking public property and ruling by fiat. The parking problem extends up the east-west streets and downward from the Castro. It is anti resident and anti business, another middle finger to the city’s small businesses and neighbors.

  5. People in Canada and Alaska drink lots of beer, so people will still be buying it in cold weather.

  6. You can not publish my comments….but just like corporate media and the nytimes the fact is there that there is a tremendous divide between the poverty , starvation and desperation of “lower mission” and the problems of weak sales in the Valencia Street playground for the rich mostly non ethnic which makes it a place of scorn in the “lower mission”.

    1. In my wildest dreams, I wish San Francisco was a playground for the rich, rather then, the nightmare result of closet communist ideology it is today.

  7. In what this journal calls the :Lower Mission” there are two running jokes …this journal is called
    ‘VALENCIA LOCAL’ the other joke is a laugh at the mention of Valencia Street with a comment about never setting foot on a street with unaffordable food and cocktails that lack the “alma e corazon” necessary in the “Lower Mission”.

  8. It’s extremely difficult to do business on Valencia if you need to carry anything because the street has been given over to parklets, bike lanes, and red lanes. I’ve had the same vet for 30 years but cannot carry heavy carriers 4 or 5 blocks so will probably need to change. Given this situation and the crime on Mission St, who needs it? The merchants who are suffering should let the city know about it – but the city cares less and less what its people want.

  9. I have lived a stone’s throw, literally, off Valencia St. for decades. In that time I have seen the street change from shops geared toward working-class locals into shops geared toward tourists and rich people.

    Do you expect me to shed a tear that these shops aren’t doing so well?

    1. Did you happen to notice that the two shops pictured were very much local shops? There are still plenty of them in the area. They don’t need your aligator tears, but wouldn’t mind if you stopped in to say hello and maybe buy something now and again—as opposed to ordering too much crap on Amazon because “it’s so much easier!”.

      1. You mean that place that sells used clothes for new clothing prices? Those of us who shop at thrift stores know the difference.

      2. Also, Allen, I do 90% of my shopping within one mile of my home. I do buy stuff on Amazon, or have Safeway deliver, because I can’t find everything I need, or it’s too heavy to carry on foot. But spare me the sanctimony. I patronize all the local shops, and restaurants, that cater to local residents like me. I miss Arinell Pizza way more than I’ll miss all of these fashion stores combined.

  10. Valencia Street? I bet the restaurants and bars are doing okay. But anything else? There is NOWHERE to park! Traffic getting there sucks, what with all the lanes lost to bus red lanes, Easier to stay in my neighborhood or go online

    1. Snapshot: Last night 7p more than a dozen vehicles double parked down Valencia off of 16th St., creating an impression there’s no parking. There often is, further down towards 24th and on Guerrero. A police Explorer comes passing through doing nothing, even though blocking a travel lane is a moving violation and police responsibility as far as I can tell. Years past at Union Square on Geary I’ve seen threewheelers used to harass drivers to keep moving, maybe that’s the answer.
      Here’s one theory: Fragrances pack small. You can slide them into a pocket so you don’t feel like you got a target on your back, like carrying shopping bags down the block. Which you also can’t drop off in your car to go grab a drink after you’re done shopping.