Coping in the age of coronavirus

What happens to people and businesses when a city of 880,000 shuts down?

Two emails tell the story. On March 12, a company called Homebase, which tracks employee hours and business operations, emailed journalists with a short report that their data showed “1.5% of San Francisco businesses have closed due to COVID-19.” Just seven days later, on March 19, the company’s new email was headlined “50% of San Francisco businesses have closed due to COVID-19.” Things got real really fast.

On March 11, San Francisco issued a public health order banning group events of at least 1,000 people; two days later the limit was reduced to 100 people. And on March 16, the city ordered people to stay at home, “shelter in place,” except for essential needs. Only businesses, activities, and government functions deemed to be “essential” were permitted to continue. And like that a city of people used to gathering in bars and restaurants, going to concerts and stores, and chatting at dog runs or children’s play dates became a city of people working from home and binge-watching TV. 


With the city largely shut down, restaurants have either been forced to close or only serve take-out and delivery orders. One popular suggestion for people who want to help out their favorite local establishment is to buy gift cards from restaurants; you can use them in the future after the crisis is over, and in the meantime, it allows the restaurants to get a bit of revenue and continue to pay some bills.

Eddie Savino, owner of The Brazen Head Restaurant (3166 Buchanan Street), said his establishment has added curbside pickup and delivery daily from 5–10 p.m. Delivery is handled through UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub, and PostMates. Plus, “alcohol is now allowed to be sold with a food order through the curbside service,” he told the Marina Times. Daily specials will also be available. “The response from customers has been very supportive and encouraging,” Savino added. “We appreciate the generosity of so many of the customers toward the staff at this time.”

One business that quickly reopened after the initial shutdown order is the Apothecarium (2414 Lombard Street). Cannabis dispensaries were not on the original list of essential businesses allowed to continue operation, but an outcry from customers and patients who rely on cannabis as medicine  resulted in the city relenting. “Within 24 hours they added dispensaries to the essential businesses list, and 24 hours after that we were able to reopen our Marina and Castro stores,” said Eliot Dobirs, chief marketing officer for The Apothecarium. He said an additional store in SOMA remained closed.

Dobirs said his company has also made changes due to the circumstances. For example, it is only accepting online orders for in-store pickup, and the store’s staff is limiting the number of customers allowed inside the store at any one time and also monitoring the social distancing inside and outside the stores. And, of course, they are constantly sanitizing the store’s surfaces and are carefully monitoring their own health.

Ike’s Sandwiches launched a promotion giving away a free roll of toilet paper with the purchase of a sandwich. Palm House (2032 Union Street) began offering a virtual happy house, sharing recipes and live streamed togetherness.

Meanwhile, organizations ranging from churches to yoga studios to The Commonwealth Club have adapted by offering their programming online. The city and state governments are considering how to conduct business if legislators cannot meet. And organizations that have always provided their services virtually, such as radio and television stations, are having to change their operations because of employeees working at home. KQED’s senior editor for politics and government, Scott Shafer, recently shared a photo of himself at home, hosting his radio program from a makeshift “studio” consisting of some portable sound equipment atop a bed with pillows as sound insulation.

It’s a time for ingenuity.


The Internet has been filled with people joking about how they are natural introverts anyway, so being shut inside their homes and forced to keep their distance from others is something they’ve been practicing for years. But for an extrovert, “almost everything about this shelter-in-place order is deeply frustrating to my need to connect with people, professionally and personally,” said Sonya Abrams, a local editor and single mother of three. The inability to make plans for the near future and the overall uncertainty about when things will return to normal have been hard on her, but she is also navigating the world of home schooling now that her three children can no longer attend schools.

“Trying to settle a 5-, 6-, and 8-year-old into a home school routine has been all but impossible, as they all seem to need me simultaneously and are resistant to the assignments their schools have suggested,” Abrams said. “I’ve backed off the idea that we’ll get any meaningful academic instruction accomplished during this time and am instead just requiring about a half-hour daily of paper learning — worksheets, handwriting practice — supplemented by a small amount of online academic games, which have proven to be bug-ridden and crash-prone.” There are some upsides and brighter moments, though. “We have been spending a couple hours outside each day, exploring nature and learning about local history, and that’s been a nice treat and an important reset when tensions get too high and patience dissolves inside the house.” 

When things do return to “normal” and the city’s children head back to school, there will be a lot of happy businesses and employees, and more than a few exhausted parents who are glad they can have alcohol delivered.

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