SF Union Square businesses hope holiday tree is a beacon for better times

With the push of a button, Macy's 83-foot Great Tree lit up San Francisco's Union Square, kicking off the start of the holiday shopping season.

"Union Square is not just a location, this is an iconic center. This is where we come to celebrate life's greatest moments," said Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of the Union Square Alliance who joined San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Police Chief Bill Scott and other city officials for the holiday lighting ceremony.

Retailers hope the holidays will bring a return of shoppers to downtown stores that are still rebounding from post-pandemic challenges.

"Post-COVID we have been lighting the tree earlier every year, so I think it just brings holiday cheer earlier to everyone and it really is the kickoff to the holiday season," said John Sparks, store manager of Macy's Union Square location, "All of these traditions are so important for so many San Franciscans, and it's getting them down here to see how safe it is and how great the holiday shopping is."

Police were clearly visible ahead of the APEC summit that starts Saturday.

"I think it will be a help. Union Square will still be open and there's a lot of delegates and people coming. I think it will be great for the city and great for the store," said Sparks.

Nearby at the Swarovski store, employees are rearranging displays to attract APEC visitors.

"We are putting out a lot of Asian-themed artifacts, as well like decorations, as well as our figurines because it is an Asian-themed conference," said Jonah Shafer who works at the Union Square store.

Shafer says they're already seeing more people come to their store, drawn by the holiday tree, skating rink and decorations downtown.

"A lot of them go to see the ice-skating rink and tree and then they come and shop nearby, see all their favorite stores. So that's fun," said Shafer.

At the tree-lighting, representatives from the Big Brother Big Sister non-profit were also there. The "Big Sister/Little Sister" pair that won the Bay Area awards helped with the tree-lighting and were all ready to shop for their big trip to New York.

"We're about to go to New York City to be on the Macy's day float," said Kanch, one of the winners, "It's amazing. A little crazy."

Kanch who was the Big Sister paired with a Little Sister named Sophia said the organization keeps the last names private, but they were excited to talk about how meaningful the program is that helps mentor and support young people in the community.

"It honestly feels so surreal like I would never have imagined myself being here like a couple years ago and I'm just so thankful for Kanch and the other brothers and sisters," said Sophia.

San Francisco's Mayor says she feels vistors will see a cleaner, safer downtown. after raising more than $20 million from the private sector to bring APEC to the city and working hard to getting more resources to help address drugs, homelessness, and retail theft.

"We've gotten additional services from the U.S. Attorney's office, the DEA, and the governor and the Califormia Highway Patrol so all of those additional resources aren't just about money they'are about also about capacity in order to implement the kinds of things necessary to address the most challenging issues," said Mayor Breed.