Bay to Breakers: SF Businesses, Brace Yourselves

May 13, 2016 • 5 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


Laces tied? Check. Calves extended? Check. Leg forward? Check. My Little Pony costume properly zipped? Uh….check? That’s right folks, San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers Race is once again upon us. Let the world bask in sights that can’t be unseen, precious flower beds torn to shreds, and the sweet smell of…well, let’s just call it victory.

It’s doubtful that these original participants of Bay to Breakers, begun in 1912 to rebuild civic spirit after the disastrous 1906 earthquake…

Bay to Breakers 1912


…had any idea that they would be a prelude to these jokers.

drunk Power Rangers
2012 Bay to Breakers photo courtesy of Kevin Edwards/Flickr

Despite the evolution of Bay to Breakers from a Chariots-of-Fire ethos to Tipsy Power Rangers, the race remains synonymous with that civic spirit envisaged so many years ago, and is still a serious footrace for runners. As one local news correspondent put it, “Bay to Breakers is the mullet of racing. Business in front, party in back.

Bay to Breakers was so dubbed because, well, it’s a race from the Bay on the east side of the city to the breakers on the west end of the city. It is, in fact, the largest footrace in the world and attracts runners and visitors from all over the globe. This year, over 40,000 runners are expected to participate with more than 100,000 spectators cheering them on. That’s a whole lot of people in the streets at one time for a city of just over 850,000. All that foot traffic brings some obstacles—and opportunities—for San Francisco’s local businesses, especially through Hayes Valley.

Bay to Breakers route map
Courtesy of MapMyRun

The second most iconic race in the U.S. according to Outside Magazine, Bay to Breakers attracts participants who “will try to outdo each other in the lavish costume category, while others go the opposite route and wear nothing at all, much to the chagrin of local government and glee of fellow racers and spectators.”

But by the early 2000’s, Bay to Breakers’ public image was in the toilet. The race had come to be known as little more than a debauched booze run that left refuse, human effluvia, and property damage in its wake. One 2010 count cited 24 tons of trash removed following the race (an improvement over 2008’s 35 tons). Needless to say, residents and businesses weren’t happy about that state of affairs. The mounting pressure on race officials in recent years led the organizers to start working more closely with San Francisco City agencies like the Department of Public Works and the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as private security firms.

Ambeerlance 2005 race
The Ambeerlance, 2005 courtesy of _e.t/Flickr

What all this means for residents and businesses in San Francisco—especially those along the race route—is that this year should be much more organized, clean, and secure than previously. Race organizers have implemented a backpack ban to curb runners from carrying alcohol. Runners may now carry a bag that must be clear and no larger than 8.5” x 11” x 4”—a limitation that has been key in reducing alcohol consumption on the course.

Of course, runners will still load up on liquids before, during, and after the race, and that means one thing: they’ll need a lot of bathrooms. In previous years, there were complaints of runners urinating and defecating in the streets due to a serious shortage of toilets. To make sure that’s not an issue this year, Bay to Breakers sponsor Zappos.com has promised participants there will be almost 1,000 conveniently located port-o-potties. That’s more than the New York Marathon-ers get, according to the General Manager of Bay to Breakers, Chris Holmes, even though that race is three times as long.

Zappos Bay to Breakers
image courtesy of Vitality Directory

In addition to tighter booze controls and abundant toilet facilities, security will be a big concern at this year’s race. With the April anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing fresh in everyone’s mind, race organizers and police are not taking any chances. Police and other security will be on hand to remove any participants who are being disorderly, presenting a threat, or who aren’t displaying their official registration number. Race officials are asking participants to follow the “see something, say something” guideline, with any suspicious activity reported immediately to the nearest race staff or security official.

A point of contention in prior years has been the lack of outreach to and inclusion of San Francisco’s small business community. To address these concerns, the 2011 Bay to Breakers sponsor, Zazzle, worked with local venues and businesses to promote events a week prior to the race, in an attempt to get visitors and locals into the spirit of the race. Unfortunately, it seems this year’s sponsors, Zappos, have not actively organized any events in coordination with neighborhood small businesses.

While this oversight is unfortunate for the small business community, it’s not likely to be a disastrous one. With approximately 150,000 people out on the streets celebrating the quirky and the weird, along with an outpouring of civic pride, small businesses can expect a lot of opportunities to generate new customers, make new friends, and enjoy a greater sense of community with their neighbors.

And, local businesses along the Bay to Breakers route now have Townsquared, San Francisco’s online business community, so those interested in working together to put themselves in the spotlight or send each other urgent alerts about any suspicious activity have the tool to do just that.


2016 Race Resources

Official list of street closures (Zappos Bay to Breakers)

Traffic alert, street closures (Hoodline)

Official Race App (Zappos Bay to Breakers)

Bay to Breakers Liquor Store Map 2016 (SFist)


Need some last-minute costume ideas? The local SF media has some suggestions for you.

SF Gate        SF Station


Hoodline has some follow-up on how the event went this year, including preliminary crime statistics.

Top photo courtesy of Zappos.com Bay to Breakers


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