How One San Francisco Street Survived the Pandemic

Clement Street in the Richmond District may be a window into neighborhoods of the future.,

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ImageThe Clement Street Farmers Market in San Francisco.
The Clement Street Farmers Market in San Francisco.Credit…Clara Mokri for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — In the space of just three blocks, hundreds of people packed in.

They clutched jars of honey, cartons of fresh peas and bouquets of flowers. Bags slung on shoulders bulged with ripe peaches, eggplants and cherries.

Other than a few masked faces, the bustling Clement Street Farmers Market on a recent Sunday felt like a relic of prepandemic times.

The market has run without interruption through every surge of the coronavirus, and the restaurants and shops on Clement Street, the main artery of the Richmond District in the northwest corner of San Francisco, have been spared the financial ruin seen across other big cities over the past 19 months.

Few, if any, businesses on the street have permanently closed, according to Morgan Mapes, the president of the Clement Street Merchants Association. Unlike downtown San Francisco, which is now largely desolate, this commercial strip never relied on business from tourists or office workers.

“We’re in a sweet spot,” Mapes told me. “We cater to our neighbors and our residents.”

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While San Francisco’s Chinatown has been hard hit by the pandemic, Clement Street, often considered the city’s second Chinatown, has been thriving.Credit…Clara Mokri for The New York Times

The self-contained nature of Clement Street offers not only an explanation for how it survived the pandemic, but also a window into how cities may change in the next few years. The megacity where people commute for hours to work, play and shop may soon be on the wane.

Before I go on, here’s some background on Clement Street: It runs eastward for two and a half miles from the northwest corner of the peninsula, and much of its length is lined with shops.

Clement Street is often thought of as San Francisco’s second Chinatown; maybe you’ve gone there for dim sum or soup dumplings. It is also where you’ll find the beloved Green Apple Books, the ever-popular Burma Superstar restaurant, and Schubert’s Bakery, which is more than a century old.

Just before the pandemic, in January 2020, I stayed on Clement Street during a trip to San Francisco, because lodgings are more affordable in the quieter (and extra foggy) part of the city. I remember loving that I never had to leave the street to find food, go to the movies or meet friends at a bar.

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Arsicault Bakery is famous for its croissants.Credit…Clara Mokri for The New York Times

I’ve recently learned that there’s a name for this convenience: the 15-minute city. The concept, which the mayor of Paris featured in her 2020 re-election campaign, envisions neighborhoods as complete social ecosystems, with offices, grocery stores, parks and doctors offices within a short walk or bike ride of every resident.

Mapes believes this structure was vital to Clement Street’s success during the pandemic. Even during lockdowns, people living in the area continued to buy groceries and other goods from nearby shops.

“I don’t really leave the neighborhood for much,” said Mapes, who owns a vintage clothing store on Clement. “You have everything here.”

When I recently returned to Clement Street, the area appeared mostly untouched by the pandemic.

There was more outdoor seating on the sidewalks, but the restaurants were as crowded as ever. Customers filtered in and out of boutique shops. A neighborhood cafe where I had noticed a group of men playing cards in the mornings still seemed to be serving as a town square.

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Advocates of the 15-minute city say the first step is ensuring that all residents have access to fresh food within walking distance, something the farmers market already provides for people living near Clement Street.Credit…Clara Mokri for The New York Times

Though the “15-minute city” idea predates the coronavirus, it’s gained traction during the pandemic as people spent more time in their communities and came to dread resuming their former long commutes.

“The pandemic has caused us to think about how to move differently, to consume differently, to live differently,” Carlos Moreno, a Sorbonne professor and driving force behind the idea, told the BBC. “We are discovering that by working differently we have more spare time, to have more time to be with our families or friends. We are discovering and appreciating our neighborhoods much more.”

Moreno believes that cities will never go back to the way they once were, and that that’s a good thing. There will be more emphasis on walking and biking, he says, and more mixing of residential and commercial spaces as services move closer to where people live.

Proponents of the 15-minute city think it will make us happier, too, as we get to know our neighbors instead of rushing from one thing to the next.

This sense of community was already on display on Clement Street. After visiting the farmers’ market on that recent Sunday, I met Mapes at her store as she closed up for the evening.

While we sat inside, a man parked his bicycle in front of the shop. He began dusting and washing the windows of the storefront, a service he apparently wanted to provide for free.

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The Clement Street Farmers Market has been running continuously throughout the pandemic. During months of lockdowns, it was a rare place for neighbors to see one another.Credit…Clara Mokri for The New York Times

Police departments that saw their funding targeted last year are now watching as local leaders vote to increase police spending.


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Workers used an absorbent boom to clean oil from the closed Santa Ana River in Newport Beach, Calif., earlier this week.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Weather warning: Damaging winds could blow down trees and power lines on Monday in mountainous regions of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Diego, San Bernardino and Imperial Counties.

  • Covid-19 vaccine resistance: The Los Angeles County sheriff says he will not compel his staff to be inoculated against the coronavirus, in defiance of the county’s order that its employees show proof of vaccination by Oct. 1.

    Los Angeles firefighters have filed a notice of intent to sue the city over its vaccine mandate.

  • Varsity Blues: Two parents have been found guilty of participating in a bribery scheme to have their children fraudulently admitted to U.S.C.

  • Lesbian spring break: The Dinah Shore Weekend, an annual festival for queer women, returned to Palm Springs after a two-year hiatus, this time with even more energy than usual.

  • Day in the studio: After stints with Kanye West and Donatella Versace, this Los Angeles shoe designer is taking bets on himself.

  • Trials of a “Real Housewife”: Erika Girardi is famous for her lavish lifestyle. Her husband’s law firm has been accused of misappropriating millions of dollars. It’s all unfolding on TV.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Weather warning: Dangerous fire conditions are expected through Tuesday evening in large parts of the Sacramento region, the East Bay, and Monterey, Mendocino and Lake Counties.

  • Power outages: Pacific Gas & Electric may shut off electric service to about 44,000 customers beginning on Monday because of increased risk of fires.

  • Sailing again: After 18 months, the Port of San Francisco is once again welcoming cruise ships.

  • Housing that says “you’re worthy”: Women who went to prison for killing their abusive partners are starting over at Home Free, an apartment complex in San Francisco.


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Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

At a Pasadena restaurant, this hamburger steak plate delivers nostalgic comfort.


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Visitors at San Juan Bautista Mission.Credit…Getty Images

Today’s travel tip comes from Elizabeth Watson-Semmons, a reader who lives in Menlo Park. Watson-Semmons recommends the town of San Juan Bautista in San Benito County:

It’s midway between San Francisco and Monterey and easy to miss, but worth watching for the sign to turn off Highway 101. My favorites are the San Juan Bakery, with breads and pastries from international recipes, and Jardine restaurant — Mexican food served on a gorgeous large patio. The mission is the oldest in continuous use of those established by Spanish priests. Its tower is the site where Jimmy Stewart confronts his demons in “Vertigo.” It is a lovely visit, along with a tour of the living history buildings that bring early California to life. The mission cemetery looks over the San Andreas fault.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


A portrait inspired by the bright colors of Los Angeles.


What are you favorite Dodgers vs. Giants memories? Share with us what the teams mean to you at CAtoday@nytimes.com.


Los Angeles’s favorite car-free event, CicLAvia, celebrated its 11th anniversary on Sunday.

Thousands of people biked, walked and skated from downtown Los Angeles to MacArthur Park and then to Chinatown — the same route participants took during the very first CicLAvia on Oct. 10, 2010.

The anniversary is extra special because it doubles as a 10-year celebration as well, since the event was canceled for much of last year because of the pandemic.


Thanks for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: In a way, informally (5 letters).

Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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