A San Francisco institution makes a comeback

Like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square is synonymous with San Francisco. It’s on every tourist’s must-see list. Problem is that it had fallen off the list of too many San Franciscans and retail tenants, and the 106,000-sq.-ft. former chocolate factory experienced severe drop-offs in traffic. When current owner Jamestown acquired it in 2013, it was 40% vacant.

“It had the tourist traffic; it needed the local traffic. That took real time to accomplish,” said CBRE senior VP Laura Sagues Barr, who announced this week that Ghirardelli Square was 100% leased for the first time in 20 years.

Barr said that she and her San Francisco-based team found themselves on the same page with Jamestown when they were hired to help resuscitate the property seven years ago. Ghirardelli needed some sprucing up but, more importantly, it required a new roster of tenants to bring locals back.

Among those recruited and signed by CBRE were local merchants Gigi & Rose and Mashka Jewelry, Pico Latin Street Food and The Cheese School, and the San Francisco Brewing company. The latter had such success with a weekend beer garden in a former basement storage space that it ended up leasing the 11,000-sq.-ft. space and opening seven days a week.

The new Ghirardelli Square tenant mix includes 52% food & beverage, 10% retail, and 38% service, entertainment, and office.

“Jamestown has managed to modernize the square, but at the same time keep it approachable and fun,” said Kiri Fisher, co-founder of The Cheese School, which operates a market and café and offers food appreciation classes.

Others making up the full house at Ghirardelli include Lola of North Beach, The Pub, Subpar Mini Golf + Arcade, Wattle Creek Winery, Bank of America, and, of course, Ghirardelli Chocolate Marketplace.

“We had to take our time with this project to get it right,” said Barr. “Jamestown invested in data collection and traffic counts. We used CBRE’s proprietary data tools. And we came to the conclusion that the original tenant mix was not the right match for the consumer base.”

Infusing the old chocolate factory with a local flavor seems to have done the trick according to Jamestown president Michael Phillips. “Helping these local entrepreneurs grow and succeed is core to Jamestown’s retail success and we are excited to continue that tradition,” Phillips said.