Whether you live in SF or have visited, one of the first things you’ll notice is how surprisingly unloved a lot of the Downtown area is. The section commonly referred to as Mid-Market runs from 5th to 10th Street and has witnessed quite a bit of urban decay. There’s been lots of discussion on how to improve the area over the past few decades but action seems to be finally happening now. Great organisations are popping up that are looking to develop the space while being mindful of the current diverse community. Startups such as Twitter have also recently moved in. Tomorrow evening, SGFT (pronounced ‘square foot’) will be running a full day of pop-ups. You can find out more here… we were also lucky to get a few questions in before the event. Check out Patrick and the team’s responses below:

So, why did Mid-Market become the way it is?

Mid-Market has been in limbo since the 1950s. When the BART was ripped up, it drove away business. Other social challenges have been overlayed, but the lack of businesses has been a key in keeping it the way it was. Less commerce leads to less foot-traffic, fewer employment opportunities, and less interest from the outside. Its a shame, because it truly is the center of San Francisco. When you type in San Francisco on Google maps, its right at Van Ness and Market, dead center. You can see tourists stumbling through the vacant hole that is 5th-7th, looking for some sign of welcoming presence, but not finding any until they hit Westfield mall.

What is SQFT and how is it making an impact in the area?

SQFT is a platform that connects retail entrepreneurs with vacant and underutilized spaces. Really it’s a group of four hardworking people (Bonnie, Emily, Tina, Patrick), with a very encouraging community of support. Our longer term vision is to make it easier for budding entrepreneurs to secure space in the city, bolster the local economy, create new job opportunities and bring more vibrancy into underserved neighborhoods. In the short term, we’re supporting the city’s Mid-Market revitalization efforts.

How can we work together on rejuvenating Mid-Market without displacing the current locale?

We don’t just want people to walk by, we want them to engage with the neighborhood. It’s essential the existing community plays an active role in rejuvenating the neighborhood. The platform we’re building is not only a place to rent space, but also a way to hire local labor to help entrepreneurs mind their stores, promote their event, check IDs, or even cook and serve food. Space is nothing without the people behind it, around it, in it. We’re not just selling square feet, but that space is a starting point to connect business, labor, and the community.

What are some of the benefits for new startups looking to move into the area?

Clearly that question is something to ask Twitter, Zendesk, One Kings Lane, and all the others already moving there. There’s a tax incentive, but also, I believe that startups are realizing that value comes, not from coding something magical in a basement in Palo Alto, but from being part of a creative community.

Twitter’s new art deco HQ on Market Street, photo by Troy Holden

You’re holding a pop-up this Wednesday, what kind of cool stuff will be happening?

On Wednesday, August 1st, SQFT is demonstrating the power of the pop-up in Mid-Market, San Francisco. Various locations along Market Street from 5th to 7th Street will be opening up their doors to new ideas and curious people like the readers of The Fetch.

Pop-up activities include:

  • Accordion Cafe Stop over on your bike commute for free bike repairs at Huckleberry Bicycles and grab some delicious De La Paz coffee. There will be an accompanying accordion player!
  • Market Rhythm + Lunch Shop for crafts, grab some food and take a drum lesson at the International Art Museum of America. Try the tamales and popsicles at Market Rhythm or head over to SF FoodLab for a Japanese rice bowl or Jablow’s Meats
  • Chess + Pop-up Library Try your hand at a streetside chess game or sit down and read at the SFPL Pop-up Library, with accompanying music from a professional string quartet
  • Yoga Get a good stretch at a Level 1 hour Power Yoga class
  • Game Night Get your game (and drink) on with a fun game night — think giant Jenga, Tic Tac Toe and Ring Toss!

What are some other Mid-Market initiatives worth checking out?

So much is going on in Mid-Market. I’m new to the area myself, and just amazed by the energy and enthusiasm to contribute.

Speaking with people who have been around for decades, you get the sense there is reason to be skeptical about five year plans, but everyone has been really excited and helpful. So specific initiatives include: The ARTery project, 5M project, Intersection for the Arts, A Temporary Offering, FoodLab, Holy Stitch, The Luggage Store, The Tenderloin National Forest, The Huckleberry Bicycles Newsstand, Luca’s Newsstand, So You Think You Can Paint. There’s a great calendar here http://centralmarketpartnership.org/events, and there’s usually something interesting here http://atemporaryoffering.com.

Tenderloin National Forest by John Angelico

Which other events do you guys attend in SF and where do you go for your SF news?

I basically say yes to every event I get. FOMO is a serious epidemic in this city. I usually end up going to one thing and just rushing around too much.

Recently I’ve been choosing only one thing per night, and I recommend checking out American Tripps Ping Pong, A show at the Orpheum, A drink a Ma’velous, Lunch at FoodLab, Chess on Market, A visit to the library, board games with friends… oh wait, I’m describing our event. Seriously though, I haven’t been getting out thanks to all the cutting and pasting involved in preparing for Wednesday.

What’s next and how can people get involved?

Take a break and swing by – you’ll be happy you did. Any time from 7:30am-11pm, so you don’t really have an excuse. I hope to see you there. Everything you need to know about this Wednesday’s launch event: www.yoursqft.com/bythesqft