The Ground-Floor Window Into Whats Ailing Downtowns

Logo The New York TimesThe New York Times
2023-09-04 09:03:17  • 8 mins

City centers may have to be reimagined to solve the problem of vacant storefronts.

No window-shopping here, in downtown storefronts across Washington, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.Credit...Photographs by Emily Badger

Downtown San Franciscos office buildings have been quieted by some of the highest vacancy rates and slowest return-to-office trends in the country. But when walking around the area, what makes it feel still so uninhabited is a different but related phenomenon downstairs from all those empty offices: the vacant ground floor.

Its the windows with their shades tightly drawn, the phantom deli counters visible through dusty glass, the lingering signage for a Verizon store that doesnt exist anymore. Its the glum handwritten notes this location is closed and the brokerage signs trying to be cheery. Around nearly every corner, theyre seeking someone to lease 822 square feet of former coffee shop, or 5,446 square feet of empty bakery, or 12,632 square feet of what was once a Walgreens.

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