Uniqlo latest to close shop as Union Square retail faces troubling trend

Japanese retailer Uniqlo joins a growing number of retailers in San Francisco's Union Square that have closed their doors for good during the pandemic.

There are empty storefronts on almost every block.

Still, many people say they are surprised that Uniqlo is closing its store on Powell Street.

Uniqlo has been a large and bright presence at Union Square for nearly a decade, but there is now a sign at the front entrance letting customers know its last day will be March 21.

"It hurts. I remembered when this store opened," says Erin Lee who lives nearby.

Uniqlo on Powell Street opened in 2012. It was the Japanese retailer's first West Coast store.

Customers poured inside. 

Those who work and live in the area say there is now an eeriness as they recall a bustling downtown before the pandemic.

"Going to all the restaurants there and now, look at it. It's like a ghost town. It's a Friday afternoon on Valentine's Day weekend," says Robert Russell of Oakland. 

Uniqlo appears to be the latest in a trend.

The H&M store across the street closed last fall. A block away, Gap's flagship store on Market Street shuttered in August.

On almost every block there are signs offering space for lease.

"To see these places close, it stinks," says Lee. 

More recently, Marshall's on Market Street closed last month.

Just steps away, the Steve Madden Outlet on Grant Avenue shuttered in August. A former employee says there's simply not enough business.    

"There were barely any customers. One or two people would walk in," says Danielle Tia, who managed the store. She says she hasn't been able to find work since the store closed, "Everyone wants a job so it's really competitive."

The Union Square Business Improvement District says it does not track the number of retailers closed during the pandemic. It wrote in statement, "With continued easing of COVID protocols and increased access to vaccinations, visitors are already returning to Union Square. We expect that retail and visitor activity will ramp up through the rest of the year."

"City Hall and business leaders need to get together and be very aggressive about re-imagining what this downtown can look like," says Jay Cheng with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.  

He says there needs to be a plan to attract foot traffic and that lower rents may bring back innovators such as artists and small businesses priced out of the city before the pandemic.

"People are really going to be hungry for human interaction so we have an opportunity to bring back live entertainment. Bring back art into the center of the city," says Cheng.  

"Things are going to bounce back. I think it's only a matter of time. But who knows how long that's going to be," says Lee.  

Paperwork filed by Uniqlo with the unemployment department shows 69 people will lose their jobs.    

The retailer's other Bay Area locations will remain open.