Police were out in force in S.F.’s Union Square for Black Friday. Shoppers weren’t


Black Friday began slowly in San Francisco’s Union Square, which has been hammered by the pandemic, a shift to online shopping and most recently, the brazen mass robberies of the Louis Vuitton store and other businesses in the city’s famed downtown shopping district.

Traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday has long been known — pre-pandemic — as a ritual that draws huge bargain-seeking, post-Thanksgiving crowds to stores that open early and lure shoppers with sales. The day has been considered a harbinger for the fortunes of retail merchants during the holiday season.

On Friday morning, as the blackness of night faded and a beautifully sunny day began, police seemed to outnumber shoppers in some blocks around Union Square. On Geary Street, sandwiched between Union Square and Macy’s, there were at least 10 police officers, five patrol cars and a large RV-sized mobile emergency operations center at about 8:30 a.m. A handful of shoppers intermittently trickled in and out of Macy’s.

The police presence was also noticeable around the square and on adjoining streets with popular stores. Officers were stationed on every corner and in front of some stores, and patrol cars were parked throughout the shopping district and tourism destination.

In front of the St. Francis Hotel, where before the pandemic, a doorperson with a whistle hailed taxis for guests, the long line of cabs was replaced with a queue of San Francisco Police Department vehicles.

“They’re everywhere,” said an excited boy, about 5, as he posed for a picture in front of the mobile operations center.

Crowds in the streets around Union Square were light, and many of the shoppers carried coffee cups rather than shopping bags. But people wandering the streets said they were reassured by the law enforcement presence.

“There’s a lot of police here,” said Sara Twas, a janitor who lives in San Francisco. “It feels very safe.”

Sara Twas (right) and a friend carry bags of Black Friday deal items while browsing through Union Square in San Francisco.

Sara Twas (right) and a friend carry bags of Black Friday deal items while browsing through Union Square in San Francisco.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

If shoppers welcomed the overt presence of police, so did the Union Square Alliance, a property-owners group.

“The ice rink is full. The stores are bustling,” Marisa Rodriguez, executive director of the alliance, said in an emailed statement. “We are pleased with the added police and security presence around BART, parking garages and on the street to make us all more comfortable and safe.”

Isaac Muradanes, a 42-year-old San Franciscan, carried an Old Navy shopping bag as he headed up Powell Street past several stores vacated during the pandemic. The street’s wide sidewalks, usually packed elbow-to-belly-button with shoppers, offered plenty of room to move. Several police officers cast watchful eyes on the small crowd.

Muradanes was not surprised to find Macy’s far less crowded than Old Navy on Market Street on Black Friday, he said, “especially because of what happened around the corner,” where the Louis Vuitton store is located. In addition to the police on the streets, several stores also had security guards stationed just inside their front doors.

Tim Dick, a Montana attorney, visited San Francisco on a Thanksgiving weekend shopping and sightseeing trip with his wife, who works in public health. He said they chose to come to San Francisco because travel prices were low and the city’s vaccination rate high. With most people on the streets wearing masks and restaurants checking vaccination records before allowing people to dine inside, the city seemed more welcoming, he said. The increased police presence was comforting, too, he said. On earlier visits, he said, they noticed a lot more homeless people on the streets and far fewer police.

But he had expected to see bigger crowds of shoppers this year.

“We were expecting it to be a lot busier,” he said.

Jasmine Woodard wears a festive outfit while shopping for Black Friday deals near Westfield mall in San Francisco.

Jasmine Woodard wears a festive outfit while shopping for Black Friday deals near Westfield mall in San Francisco.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicle





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