Breaking the chains

Rival measures updating SF's formula retail controls stir controversy and debate

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Philz Coffee is a homegrown chain that would be exempted from proposed formula retail controls.
PHOTO BY KENNEJIMA/FLICKER (CC)

steve@sfbg.com

San Franciscans have always been wary of chain stores, more so than residents of any other major US city, none of which have taken on the ever-expanding national corporations and their homogenizing impact on local communities as strongly as San Francisco.

In the decade since San Francisco first adopted trail-blazing controls on what it calls "formula retail" businesses, those restrictions have only gotten tighter for various commercial districts around the city as elected supervisors seek to prevent big companies from taking over key storefronts from local shopkeepers.

But now, as the Planning Department and Mayor's Office push a new set of formula retail regulations that they say standardizes and expands the analysis and controls for chain stores throughout the city, neighborhood groups and small business advocates are decrying aspects of the proposal that actually weaken those controls.

Most controversial is the proposal to almost double the number of outlets that a company can have before it is considered a formula retail business, going from up to 11 stores now up to 20 under the proposal, which was approved by the Small Business Commission last week and heads to the Planning Commission next month.

Opposition is particularly strong in North Beach, one of two neighborhood commercial districts that have an outright ban on formula retail business (Hayes Valley is the other) and where residents are organizing to fight the proposal at the Board of Supervisors and at the ballot if necessary.

"The Planning Department proposal to redefine what a chain store is flies in the face of the voters' will and 10 years of successful chain store policy," Aaron Peskin, the former Board of Supervisors president from North Beach who sponsored the ordinance banning chains there, told the Guardian.

The citywide voters he refers to are those who approved Prop. G by a wide margin in 2006, defining formula retail business as having 11 or more outlets with common branding and merchandise and requiring that they obtain a conditional use permit before opening in most neighborhood commercial districts, thus giving local residents a vehicle to stop those projects.

Although Prop. G allows the city to update its standards and definitions regarding formula retail, Peskin and others said throwing out the negotiated number of 11 outlets undercuts "the fundamental underpinning of the formula retail controls."

The Planning Department proposal also does nothing to prevent big national chains from creating spin-offs to circumvent the controls, a growing trend that raised controversy in the last few years, including when Gap subsidiary Athleta opened a store on Fillmore Street and when Liz Claiborne owner Fifth & Pacific Companies tried to open a Jack Spade store in the Mission District.

Those two controversial provisions in the Planning Department proposal aren't in rival legislation by Sup. Eric Mar, who has long been a champion of expanding controls on chain stores. Both the Mar and Planning Department legislation will go before the Planning Commission on July 17, and they could be either merged or move forward as rival proposals.

"We're hoping this legislation moves forward as quickly as we can," Mar told us. "We're losing neighborhood character in many areas."

 

WEAK LINKS

For all the indignant opposition to the Planning Department proposal expressed at the June 9 Small Business Commission meeting, where mayoral appointees led that body's 4-2 vote approving the measure, the planners who developed it say they're actually trying to expand the controls on chain stores.

Comments

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2014 @ 2:44 pm

That Peskin doesn't care about chain stores in his little fiefdom of North Beach.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 18, 2014 @ 8:37 am

Peskin banned them there and is working to keep that ban in place, so I'd say he cares about chain stores in North Beach a great deal. Care to explain your point, Guest?

Posted by steven on Jun. 18, 2014 @ 11:32 am

Control.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 19, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

stores like Hot Topic, so he needs to ban them to protect The Children.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 18, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

Banks are formula retail? This legislation, if it passes, will provide a great opportunity for a future Supervisor to write even more legislation to undo the bad legislation that it will amend. Classic micro-management style of Mar, Campos, Avalos - following Peskin, Ammiano, Leno.

Posted by Richmondman on Jun. 19, 2014 @ 5:24 am

Banks proliferating in NCDs was the original impetus for clustering controls that led to the formula retail legislation.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 19, 2014 @ 8:32 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 19, 2014 @ 8:48 am

Chain store prices are decent...they open at night, Sundays, and holidays...and their storefronts are kept clean.

It seems those making techie salaries whom the Bay Guardian people despise can afford to buy at the mom and pop stores the Bay Guardian people defend.

A real puzzler there.

Posted by guest-1 on Jun. 19, 2014 @ 9:21 am

People voted to control chain stores, people do not like chain stores.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 6:55 am

they are always packed when I visit them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 7:33 am

There are not chain stores all over SF and they are never, ever packed.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 7:49 am

Even places with stricter controls like Noe Valley have a few.

While large tracts of the city have many stores.

If you do not think they are packed, let's take a walk to Costco. Target, Safeway, Walgreens, Lowes, and almost anywhere downtown.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 8:22 am

Nobody ever shops at chain stores.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 8:47 am

They are packed. And didn't you say somewhere that you like your local Walgreens?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 9:04 am

Which is funny, because I have seen Marcos shopping at the best buy in SF the day that the IPAD came out.

Posted by Becky Backside on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 8:31 am

Love it.

Of course, it isn't much different from a white male tech worker buying a condo in the Mission while whining about gentrification of the Mission.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

Always hijacking the conversation back to ad hominem because the voters oppose chain stores.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

So ad hominem means calling someone out on their hypocrisy?

And if no one shops at chains, how do they stay in business? Places like Walgreens, McDonalds, and Starbuck's seem to be doing okay.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

There are few mom and pop options for prescription medications. Small scale coffee shops dominate Starbucks. And most chain restaurants are up at the Wharf for the tourists.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

Sooooo.... in other words, there is a place in SF for chain stores.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

Yes, subject to the limitations. But nobody really shops much at chain stores unless there are no other options. If Central Computer is closed, then in a pinch I'll get a piece of equipment at Best Buy.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 8:46 pm

So all the people who shop at the new Target in the Richmond are... what? Lost?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 9:20 pm

Nobody shops at the new Target at the Metreon, they're too busy gawking at the INSANELY high prices.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 10:05 am

at the checkout.

Still, I'm sure you're right even though you say you never go there.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 11:05 am

Chain stores skimp on labor costs and externalize those onto the customers via interminable lines.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 6:56 am

now you complain that customers have to wait in line when they shop there!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:24 am

What are you smoking??
I shop at target and the prices on household items are much lower than wallgreens.
Where else can SF people shop on soap and other items?
I cant afford lavender castille soap sourced from peru with extract of egpytian mummy.

Posted by Becky Backside on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

Not at the Metreon Target, it is priced for tourists.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 6:57 am

And it's cheaper than most small stores I've shopped at.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:25 am

marcos getting PWN3D.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 10:35 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 6:36 am

started getting closed out. There were quite a few of them back then... Broemmels comes to mind in particular... quaint old wooden-floored places... always with antique pharmacist equipment and the customary bottles of colored water behind glass in oaken cabinetry.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

big box store like Walgreens or Best Buy while criticizing chain stores than he is when he complains about white tech workers gentrifying the Mission.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 9:13 am

Walgreens has been at 16th and Mission since long before chain stores became category killers. The giant tech firms and the venture capitalists who throw money at them are the enemy, not tech workers.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 10:06 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 11:05 am

New chain store BAD!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 6:36 am

And I see progressives shopping in them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 6:42 am

The voters have spoken loud and clear, you are wrong.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:22 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:34 am

And when you go on your multi paragraph stories about how you've succeeded at blah blah blah when nobody has asked you, or cares at all - that is what ?

Posted by Becky Backside on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 6:27 pm

You are a loser.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

Argumentum ad hominem

Posted by Becky Backside on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

That's what you always do when you lose the debate, you've been pwned, loser!

Posted by marcos on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

You planning on waiting in line at best buy when the new iPhone comes out?

Posted by Becky Backside on Jun. 22, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

I buy my Apple products from either the Apple store or B&H in NYC.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:00 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:26 am

Not Chain stores that are in violation of the law. There are two Apple stores in San Francisco, direct from the manufacturer. There is one B&H in NYC.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:36 am

open here, and not to the hundreds of existing ones.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:45 am

Exactly, idiot.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:53 am

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