Helping Transform Vacant Retail Space Into Community Space

*This is the first post in a series about retail in The East Cut neighborhood.

Empty storefronts with “For Lease” signs are a sight all too common in neighborhoods across San Francisco, from the Mission to the Marina. As many neighborhoods struggle with how to activate these lifeless spaces, The East Cut Community Benefit District (CBD) is taking a novel approach to transforming retail in the neighborhood.

Since early 2017, The East Cut CBD has been turning vacant retail space into places for community to gather through pop-up art shows and events that attract hundreds of residents and visitors. By partnering with local arts groups and developers in the neighborhood, The East Cut CBD has found success in bringing to life commercial space that typically sits empty.

In 2017 alone, more than 3,000 neighbors and visitors attended 9 of these pop-up events, and The East Cut CBD plans to expand the free program in 2018. The second exhibit of 2018 is a two-week art show titled Ways to Kill the Night and opens on Friday, February 16 at 6pm at 302 Folsom Street. RSVP here.

But these events aren’t just about celebrating local artists in unique venues, they also showcase the potential for vacant storefronts in the neighborhood and bring bustling street life that enlivens the district, at no cost to local taxpayers. “We’re taking a proactive and positive approach to solve a problem plaguing neighborhoods across the city” said Andrew Robinson, Executive Director of the East Cut CBD. “By bringing people and art into vacant retail spaces, we’re showing building owners, businesses, and residents that The East Cut supports thriving neighborhood retail.”

In taking an innovative approach to activating vacant storefronts, The East Cut CBD has also found willing and active partners in developers and building owners. Where many neighborhoods struggle to engage their commercial property owners, The East Cut CBD has developed strong relationships with local developers who provide the space to the CBD and arts organizations for a nominal fee or free. For example, The East Cut Art Fair in January 2018 brought together four Bay Area gallery directors to activate a 3,000 foot vacant storefront with local contemporary art, the space donated by building-owner Tishman Speyer.

These events are core to the work of The East Cut CBD, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for residents, workers, and visitors to the area — and active and diverse ground floor retail is essential for creating vibrant, livable, and connected streets and neighborhoods. Healthy neighborhood retail means residents and visitors mix and mingle, streets are lively and safe with people moving about, communities have spaces to gather outside of home and work, and local ownership and jobs support a thriving economy. To achieve these goals, The East Cut CBD is also working on a neighborhood retail strategy, and these events are just the beginning. Future blog posts will share more information about the retail strategy and share visions for the future of retail in the area.

Come celebrate the kick off of The East Cut CBD’s 2018 pop-up art series at the opening reception for Ways to Kill the Night on Friday, February 16, 2018 at 6pm at 302 Folsom street. Ways to Kill the Night is a collaborative show between artists Chris Lux and Sarah Thibault that explores late night restlessness and the devices we turn to in our darkest hours. The exhibit runs through March 3, 2018. RSVP here.

Ways to Kill the Night Opening Reception
Friday, February 16, 2018
6:00PM to 10:00PM
302 Folsom Street, San Francisco

The East Cut CBD is actively seeking partners and ideas for unique venues to host events. Please contact Tom Kolbeck, Director of Operations and Community Engagement at to get involved or share your suggestions.