Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have spurred companies around the world to encourage workers to telecommute as opposed to traveling to offices at city centers. As coffee is the lifeblood of many a desk worker, that doesn’t mean that San Franciscans are doing without their java, but local coffee shops say that their traffic patterns have changed dramatically as part of the sudden move to remote work.
The Washington Post reports that downtown San Francisco buildings like Salesforce Tower are “largely empty,” a condition that has had a “devastating” impact on the 181 Fremont Street location of Andytown Coffee Roasters, co-owner Lauren Crabbe says. “Our sales have been down 60 percent this week” at the downtown spot, Crabbe says. “And today was the worst yet.”
Crabbe says that she thinks Thursday’s drop is attributable to companies that sent out directives on Wednesday for their employees to work from home. She might be onto something: Bernadette “Bernie” Melvin, the owner of Bernie’s Coffee, says that her Noe Valley shop was “surprisingly busy” on Thursday, but that “patterns were totally off.”
Typically, Melvin says, her 3966 24th Street cafe is jam-packed from 5:30–7:30 a.m., mostly with Noe Valley residents who need their caffeine before they catch shuttle busses either downtown or down the Peninsula. But as more and more of those tech companies have asked workers to remain remote, Melvin says that things don’t get hopping until 9 or 9:30, as WFHers start to fuel up for their sweat-panted days.
The same is true for Andytown’s Sunset locations, Crabbe says. Those shops “aren’t seeing the 7 a.m. rush,” Crabbe says, but are bustling in the afternoons. “Our 3 p.m. dead time is now our 3 p.m. rush,” Crabbe says.
Giulietta Carrelli, the owner of the Outer Sunset’s Trouble Coffee, echoes Crabbe’s and Melvin’s observations, saying that for her shop, “business is about the same, it’s just the timing that’s different. Mornings are dead, but afternoons are packed.” It’s a pattern that Crabbe likens to “the time between Christmas and New Years,” when office folks who are still working often do it from the comfort of their couches.
One thing that’s different than those halcyon holidays are the number of laptopped folks who are camping out in coffee shops, a typical San Francisco sight. These days, Crabbe and Melvin both say, people are taking the “home” in working from home literally, and tables at their cafes remain worker-free.
Another way that neighborhood-based coffee shops are finding to keep their business up is by sales of beans for at-home coffee brewing. Speaking with the SF Chronicle, city resident Steven Buss, a software engineer at Google’s Embarcadero office, says that he “bought coffee beans for the first time in a while instead of heading straight to the office to get his first cup.” Though Buss lives in a Tenderloin condo, not in Noe Valley, he might as well be a customer at Bernie’s: According to Melvin, even on days when her sales have been down, sales of beans have ticked up by 6–12 pounds per day, which means “that by the end of the day, we’re just about even.”
Others, like Andytown, are offering discounts on whole beans in an effort to retain business during this period, which Crabbe fears “is going to get worse before it gets better.” Melvin agrees that there’s “a different weird energy” in her coffee shop this week, and says she thinks that “last week, people were still sort of ‘it’s not that big a deal’ but this week a state of shock kicked in.” That said, Melvin believes that as working from home becomes the new normal, things are going to start rebounding for coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants. After all, “we can’t be in a state of crisis forever.”