With counties hitting orange tier, some begin wondering about post-pandemic normal

Like a pied piper calling people to the streets, the sound of a flute echoed down Sanchez Street in San Francisco's Noe Valley neighborhood Friday. The warm spring sunshine and the new relaxing of pandemic restrictions to the orange tier just days ago, has brought a new mood to San Francisco.

"In some ways it's exciting, in other ways a little bit nerve-wracking because we've been locked down and at home for so long," said Krisi Johnson who lives in the neighborhood.

Johnson and others say they are noticing how the city landscape has changed in a year.

In Noe Valley, Sanchez Street is closed as part of the city's Slow Streets program to provide more social distancing space outdoors for people to enjoy.

There's a sadness though too, seeing the dramatic changes to the city's business landscape.

"Based on a pre-covid baseline 50% of our small businesses are closed," said Emily Abraham, interim director of public policy with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. She says some closures are temporary, but others are permanent.

"Chinatown has been really hard hit along with downtown. Our downtown corridor has just been completely decimated," said Abraham.

Along Market Street, the financial district, was deserted during the work-from home orders, but now business owners are beginning to see more life.

There is definitely more energy downtown," said Adam Smith, owner of Fog City News. He says the store had to suddenly switch business plans when the pandemic hit last year, when their business sold magazines and chocolates to office workers in the high rise buildings downtown.

"We now ship orders all over the country, which is something we never needed to do in the past," said Smith.

He says he and other small stores have hope, now that offices are allowed to partially reopen.

"I just think with the vaccine rollout there is more optimism," said Smith, 'I can tell you there was not that sense of eagerness 6 months ago, 9 months ago."
Reconnecting and rethinking basic social interactions are now critical elements as communities move towards reopening.

"I don't think we go back to the way it was before," said Roderick Daniels of San Francisco, "I mean, just try to figure out how to navigate this new world with all these new social norms and masking and how you navigate meeting new people and what that means."

Daniels says in the moving forward, people will need to wrestle with new ways of thinking about social interactions and city infrastructure.

The city is considering whether to make some of those slow streets for neighborhoods permanent.

Click here for the SF Chamber of Commerce Economic Recovery Data Dashboard

Learn more about SFMTA's Slow Streets Program

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.