Dean Clough

March 6, 2024

Portico Darwin: SF is Leading the Way, But Where?


<2 Minute Read

Happy Wednesday and it is great to be back in San Francisco.  As you might have noticed, I tend to be a bit of a cheerleader for my beloved SF. 

That was never more true than on my recent trip to Hoboken and Tupper Lake.  I took every occasion to do my "those that bet against San Francisco always lose" routine, explaining how this ain't our first rodeo, in terms of recovering from devastating blows.  LOL, I remember it was over for SF when the original dot com bubble exploded in 2000, and again in 2008 after the financial crisis.  There were ass-kicking earthquakes in 1906 and 1989, and yes, the pandemic, too, did a number on the world's best city.

But as I've said before:  it's fucking San Francisco, and there's a reason our city logo features a phoenix.

I also reminded people on this self-anointed speaking tour that while all cities have homeless, car break-ins, and shoplifting, no other city compresses that unsavoriness into 49 square miles.  We don't even make the list of the largest 150 cities by landmass, so it's not as easy for us to hide the bad stuff as it is in say, Indianapolis (361 square miles).

Yet it is hard to explain away the nation's worst office occupancy rates, and now this, the news that the Macy's flagship department store in San Francisco's famous Union Square shopping district is closing.  What was an institution for generations will be just another empty retail store.  Indeed, it is easier to name the major brands that have left Union Square, versus those that remain. 

As a long-time resident - it will be 32 years soon - this is a gut punch.  For many of the years we've lived here, "going to Union Square" was still kind of a big deal.  Heck, a lot of people used to dress for the occasion, and still did when we first arrived.

Now?  Well, you only need to turn on Fox News to see Macy's is just one in a long line of closures all over downtown.

But I say we're on the leading edge.  The problem is that no one, to date, can say where we're going.

Offices and big department stores are mostly over, and San Francisco is the vanguard of that trend.  What we're going through now will inevitably reach nearly all major commercial districts, if not now, then soon.  And if not to the degree we are experiencing, close to it.  I am not the first to observe that many office towers may become our civilizations' pyramids, and giant urban department stores are the same thing.

Indeed, this reminds me of the wisdom shared by the brewing enthusiast Günther Strobel, explaining the demise of another SF legend, Anchor Brewing.  Mr. Strobel asked the simple question, "When was the last time you ordered a Steam Beer?" 

He was right, and the same logic applies here:  Nobody, relatively speaking, is going to Union Square anymore, or to the office, either.  The computer, the Internet, and finally, the pandemic, changed everything.

But that's the case everywhere.

Because look at this.  This is another Macy's, but this is one in my hometown of Albany.  While it is not currently slated for closure, does anyone see a bright future here? 

Me neither.  Who the hell is getting in a car and driving to that?  Why?  To be ignored by the few sales clerks that you can't find in the first place?

The same is true for return-to-office mandates - why demand that people commute when there's no need?  While I may staunchly believe there is value in workers uniting in a common location (A.K.A. offices), I appear to be in the minority.  It's also a lot cheaper for companies.  So I wonder which way most will go, especially when their employees don't want to go to an office in the first place?

Thus my call for our best urban planners and architects to take the lead, and now.  What should we do with all of this space?

"Housing?"  Great, but look at the hulking monolith above and tell me how?  

Answering the question of what to do with dying or dead office buildings and retail stores is important, and the problem is not going away.  In SF, and soon, most everywhere else.


I guess all of the self-adoration has been a bit much for some, judging by the dearth of fireworks and dancing in the street surrounding this blog's 3rd birthday.

But not to worry:  There's another chapter of London Calling coming right up!

Thank you for reading this newsletter. 


I find this surprisingly good, and it's the last album from ZZ Top, at least the one that included Dusty Hill, who died in 2021.  Here is 2012's enjoyable La Futura.

About Dean Clough