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How One San Francisco Street Survived the Pandemic


SAN FRANCISCO — Hundreds of people gathered in just three blocks.

They picked up jars of honey, boxes of fresh peas, and bouquets of flowers. Bags on the shoulders bulged with ripe peaches, aubergines and cherries.

Aside from a few masked faces, the bustling Clement Street Farmers Market on a recent Sunday felt like a relic of prepandemic times.

The market has weathered every wave of the coronavirus uninterrupted, and the restaurants and shops of Clement Street, the main thoroughfare of the Richmond District in San Francisco’s northwest corner, have been spared the financial ruin seen in other major cities. has been seen from time to time. past 19 months.

According to Morgan Mapes, the president of the Clement Street Merchants Association, few, if any, businesses on the street are permanently closed. Unlike downtown San Francisco, which is now largely deserted, this commercial strip never relied on tourists or office workers.

“We’re in a good spot,” Mapes told me. “We focus on our neighbors and our residents.”

Clement Street’s self-contained nature not only provides an explanation for how it survived the pandemic, but also provides an insight into how cities could change in the coming years. The megacity where people commute for hours to work, play and shop is about to disappear.

Before I go any further, here’s some background on Clement Street: It runs two and a half miles east from the northwest corner of the peninsula, and much of its length is lined with shops.

Clement Street is often thought of as San Francisco’s second Chinatown; maybe you’ve been there for dim sum or soup dumplings. Here you’ll also find the much-loved Green Apple Books, the ever-popular Burma Superstar restaurant, and Schubert’s Bakery, which is over a century old.

Just before the pandemic, in January 2020, I stayed on Clement Street during a trip to San Francisco, because staying in the quieter (and extra foggy) part of the city is cheaper. I remember loving that I never had to leave the street to find food, go to the movies, or meet friends at a bar.

I recently learned that there is a name for this convenience: the city of 15 minutes. Presented by the mayor of Paris in her 2020 reelection campaign, the concept envisions neighborhoods as complete social ecosystems, with offices, supermarkets, parks and doctors’ surgeries within a short walk or bike ride of each resident.

Mapes believes this structure was vital to Clement Street’s success during the pandemic. Even during lockdowns, people in the area continued to buy groceries and other goods from nearby stores.

“I don’t really leave the neighborhood for long,” said Mapes, owner of a vintage clothing store on Clement. “You have everything here.”

When I recently returned to Clement Street, the area seemed largely untouched by the pandemic.

There was more out on the sidewalks, but the restaurants were as busy as ever. Customers filtered in and out of boutiques. A neighborhood cafe where I’d seen a group of men play cards in the morning still seemed to function as a town square.

While the idea of ​​a “15-minute city” predates the coronavirus, it has gained traction during the pandemic as people spent more time in their communities and feared to resume their former long commutes.

“The pandemic has prompted us to think about how we can move differently, consume differently, live differently,” Carlos Moreno, a professor at the Sorbonne and driving force behind the idea, told the BBC. “We find that by working differently we have more free time, more time to be with our family or friends. We are discovering and appreciating our neighborhoods much more.”

Moreno believes that cities will never be the way they once were, and that’s a good thing. There will be more emphasis on walking and cycling, he says, and more mixing of residential and commercial spaces as services get closer to where people live.

Proponents of the 15-minute city believe it will also make us happier, as we get to know our neighbors instead of rushing from one thing to another.

This sense of community was already evident in Clement Street. After visiting the farmers market on that recent Sunday, I met Mapes at her shop as she closed for the evening.

While we were inside, a man parked his bicycle in front of the store. He started dusting and washing the shop windows, a service he apparently wanted to provide for free.

Today’s travel tip comes from Elizabeth Watson-Semmons, a reader who lives in Menlo Park. Watson-Semmons recommends the town of San Juan Bautista in San Benito County:

Located halfway between San Francisco and Monterey, it’s easy to miss, but it’s worth looking for the sign to shut off Highway 101. My favorites are the San Juan Bakery, with bread and pastries from international recipes, and Jardine restaurant – Mexican food served on a beautiful large terrace. The mission is the oldest in continuous use of those founded by Spanish priests. The tower is where Jimmy Stewart confronts his demons in ‘Vertigo’. It’s a fun visit along with a tour of the living history buildings that bring early California to life. The mission cemetery overlooks the San Andreas Fault.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We will share more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

A portrait inspired by the bright colors of Los Angeles.

What are your favorite Dodgers vs. Giant’s memories? Share with us what the teams mean to you at

Los Angeles’ favorite car-free event, CicLAvia, celebrated its 11th birthday on Sunday.

Thousands of people biked, walked and skated from downtown Los Angeles to MacArthur Park and then to Chinatown — the same route participants took during the first-ever CicLAvia on October 10, 2010.

The anniversary is extra special as it is also a 10-year anniversary as the event was canceled for much of the year last year due to the pandemic.

Thank you for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

PS Here is today’s mini crossword, and a clue: in a sense informal (5 letters).

Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at:

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