The malling of San Francisco

National chain stores are flooding into a city that once led the nation in protecting neighborhood businesses and setting limits on commercial spaces

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The Metreon mall is being revived by a huge Target scheduled to open this fall. Will it put the city in chains?
GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

steve@sfbg.com

Shopping malls filled with national chain stores and restaurants are in many respects the antithesis of San Francisco. They're the bane of any metropolis that strives to be unique and authentic. And those just happen to be qualities that make tourism this city's number one industry.

The logic of modern capitalism, and its relentless growth into new markets, has already placed a Target or a Walmart, and a Nordstrom, Macy's, Ross, or a JCPenney — along with a bevy of Starbucks, Applebee's, Jamba Juice, and McDonald's and myriad other formulaic corporate eateries — in just about every town in the country.

Do people really need them here, too? And in a city renowned worldwide for its scenic beauty and temperate (albeit sometimes foggy) climate, do people want to shop in the enclosed, climate-controlled malls popularized in the small or suburban towns that many residents came here to escape?

For me, the answer is no. Frankly, malls have an aura of artificiality that gives me the creeps — but I freely acknowledge that not everyone feels that way. Some San Franciscans may like malls and chain stores while others don't.

But it doesn't really matter what any of us think. Left unchecked, it's the market that matters — and the logic of the market gives chain stores a huge competitive advantage over the mom-and-pops. Their labor and supply costs are lower, their financial resources are more extensive and appealing to commercial landlords, and their business models are based on constantly opening new stores.

All cities have to do is just say yes. And San Francisco has been increasingly saying yes to malls and chain stores.

The economic desperation that set in since the financial crash of 2008 has overcome the trend of resistance to so-called "formula retail establishments" that had been building in San Francisco during the years before the recession.

So now, rather than dying from neglect, the Metreon mall has been brought back to life by a huge Target store set to open this fall, the second Target (the other one at Masonic and Geary) going into a city that had once eschewed such national mega-retailers.

Just down the street, in the heart of the city's transit-rich commercial center, the CityPlace mall that had been abandoned by its previous owners after winning city approval two years ago is now being built by new owners and set to open next spring with "value-based" national chain stores like JCPenney.

Projects funded with public money aren't immune either. The new Transbay Terminal transit center now under construction will have its own mini-mall, with 225,000 square feet of retail, much of it expected to house national chains. Even more retail will be built on the ground floor of the dozen other nearby residential and office buildings connected to the project.

And it isn't just these new malls going in a stone's throw from the Westerfield Mall, Crocker Galleria, San Francisco Center, and other central city malls. All over town, national chains like the Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy grocery stores are replacing Cala Foods and other homegrown markets, or going into other commercial shells like the S&C Ford building on Market near the Castro.

Just a few years ago, the approval of Home Depot on Bayshore Boulevard (since then sold and opened as Lowe's, another national chain) was a hugely controversial project approved by the Board of Supervisors on a closely watched 6-5 vote. Now, Lennar is building an entire suburban-style complex of big box stores on Candlestick Point, hundreds of thousands of square feet — without much controversy at all.

Comments

Sometimes I go in to one and just look around in awe, then go to Kaplans or Central Computer (a smallish chain) and buy whatever I need.

I find it interesting that progressives have such little faith in the common lump that they want to make choices for them at every turn. A lot of chain stores have died in the city, as an example the Sears out on Masonic and Geary has been gone for 20 years. Where to get strawberry soda after KFC on Valencia closed? Looks like when given a choice a fair amount of the peasants make the correct choice, but what is needed is more laws.

If these chain stores were such a good deal for the city they would be offering to plop down on third street, instead they want to cherry pick the spots... Usually in places the majority of the cities citizens don't go to all that much.

I suppose a case could be made that plopping them down on Market is a win since the people shopping there are tourists and those who travel into the city on BART.

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Posted by recruitment on Oct. 24, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

about how terrible malls and chains are and how we are losing our authenticity (WTF does that even mean???-seriously), yet you completely ignored looking at some of the city policies and issues that are so anti-business, chains are the only ones that can afford to compete here.

How about a discussion of the permitting process and how it takes significantly longer to get the permits to open a business in SF than elsewhere? How about how NIMBY groups, like the TGHD can essentially veto a new business if they don't like it?

And then of course there are all the city taxes and fees that have to be paid, making it even harder for a small business to succeed and grow, health care taxes and requirements, hefty business taxes, higher min wage, etc. With all these obstacles, it is hardly surprising that chains are the only ones with capital to get going in the city.

Of course, looking at those issues goes against the SFBG political line so, you just totally ignored them.

Posted by D.native on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

theory" any reasoned critique of what they hold dear?

I've seen this formula repeatedly in the last few days both directed at my comments and that of others. Trogs, get this through you heads: unless the commenter is writing "oh me, this is so awful, I never get a fair shake" -- or something to that effect -- IT IS NOT FUCKING WHINING and your describing it as such only makes you look like jackasses.

Stop it with the lame rhetoric. Maybe try and buy a vowel or something.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

... and total lack of self-awareness.

"I've seen this formula repeatedly in the last few days both directed at my comments and that of others."

How many times have you howled troll?

Posted by matlock on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 4:11 am

You shouldn't have wasted your time with that pathetic wingnut troll. I don't read what that thing writes, but I did in this case since you responded to it. The thing accused Steven of whining, and then they whined about Steven. Their whining is ok. Signature wingnut troll. They can't stand the site so they come here to whine about it. What a pathetic life some people live.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

Why did I not expect a double standard?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

Yes, San Francisco is so hostile to business these days that there are no new jobs being created and the population is falling.

Nobody wants to live, work or do business here, so let's give away the store since demand is so low.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 8:46 am

reasons including costs, taxes, regulations and a significant minority who appear to see business as a bad thing.

Business is here despite that and not because of the absence of it. And in fact many businesses do move away, most obviously our two big banks, neither of which has it's HQ here, despite what Occupy says.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 8:55 am

"We" have big banks? I thought that the big banks had "US?"

The incessant whining of the big business community knows no end. They will use small business the same way that Carlos Petroni used a child to deflect from Excrecia at Mission High School, to advance their own self interest.

Business is here because it is desirable to be here. When a City enjoys that advantage, it should do what business does--buy low, sell dear, not discount the desirable.

When the Demopublicans say they want to run the guvmint like a business, they mean they want to run the guvmint like the business of the interests they're supposed to be negotiating with.

There is near infinite demand for business to locate in San Francisco, has been for some time. This caterwauling about paying their own freight only serves to make locating here even more profitable than it already is.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 9:01 am

Large-scale employers go elsewhere because there is no need to pay SF wages for a factory, call centre or back office function.

SF has high-value niche businesses here because employees in demand want a nice town to live in. Tech startups, law firms, fund management, architects etc. all make sense to be here.

And lots of minimum wage jobs to provide them with services. But the middle class is SOL here. They move to where "their" jobs are.

Business isn't a carcass to be plucked and savaged. It's what provides us all with this nice lifestyle. Mess with it at your peril.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 9:18 am

I thought that you all supported allowing the marketplace to pick winners and losers?

Why should San Franciscans support government intervention in the market on behalf of business in ways that do not benefit us or actually hurt us while the market treats flesh and blood human beings like yesterday's dog shit when it wants to?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 9:42 am

Being pro-business is being pro-people.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 10:50 am

Corporations are illegitimately yet legally persons, not people.

So you oppose the free market and think that government should pick winners and losers?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 11:22 am

Too bad San Francisco lost out on the $30 in sales tax revenue.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

I guess it would have been preferable to Steven if the people of that neighborhood had continued to live in a food desert. He can always bike to Rainbow for his organic chard.

And I wonder if Steven read the recent report on the impact Whole Foods has in poor areas? It's not complicated - Whole Foods revitalizes entire neighborhoods by its very presence.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 9:32 pm

altogether. No independent food store is going to set up operation in certain areas.

The real problem is the chains that close up higher wage more labour intensive operations.

If you don't like Target at the Metreon, don't go, the only thing they may close up is another chain. Personally those huge places with their stepford employees and shoddy products are excruciating.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

i shop at both cole hardware and the new big box lowe's. i see them as complementary.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

and the always delightful experience of being served by a purple-haired tattooed butch lesbian with a toolbelt. But even my friend who works there and gets the CH staff discount goes to Home Depot for big items because, even with that staff discount, CH is still more expensive.

And that's the real issue here and explains, at a stroke why that most soulless of all chains - WalMart - goes from strength to strength. People want cheap more than they want cute. Easy, free parking too.

And then there's the sales tax issue. You can save 1/4% or 1/2% by driving a few miles north, eadt or south. Retail is clustered right outside of SF in Colma, Emeryville and Corte Madera for a reason - sales tax and SF's anti-business climate. It's even worse in Oakland which has almost no serious retail.

Finally, most major purchases are available online with no sales tax and free shipping. Delivered to my door with no hassle. "Cute" doesn't come close to competing with that. Saves me hundreds a year, and time.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 7:50 am

Wont someone save the grime and filth of mid market? Wont someone save the empty trash strewn lots? Wont someone save the empty boarded up porn theatres?
Wont someone save the complete lack of economic vitality in Mid market?

Please explain to me how this editorial is any different then the republicans trying to kill health care? They have no viable option to replace it, yet they continue to lobby against it.

What is the SFBG's answer to mid market? Let it fester? Do nothing ?

Way to lead SFBG!

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Posted by digital photography lesson plans on Jul. 01, 2013 @ 10:51 am

Yet another idiotorial from Steve Jones. Yes, it would have been better to let Market Street, the Bayview and other place just remain vacant, graffiti-covered holes in the ground then let some chain store actually come in and create jobs and produce tax revenue. Its nice to see that the Bay Guardian writers are still living in the Twilight Zone. I shop a chain stores more then local businesses for one very important reason: They often offer better variety of products at lower prices. That is not always the case but I have found it to the the case more often then not. I suppose Steve Jones and his fellow Lilliputians at the Bay Guardian would like to see all the chain stores leave San Francisco. Of course the unemployment rate would skyrocket if that were to happen but whoever said progressive really care about whether their ideas work or not. The Bay Guardian advocates policies that tax a regulate to death anyone who makes a profit in this town and then complains when that results a situation in which chains are the only ones who can afford to move into vacant storefronts. You really have to be amused when "progressives" complain about a problem that they themselves helped create.

Posted by Ed on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 8:35 am

Steven is six inches tall right now.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 10:57 am

If we're really choosing between chain stores and your hyperbolic vision of an urban wasteland then we've already lost what made San Francisco what it is. Luckily, the problem and choices are far more nuanced than that, as I indicated in my article. It's about balance and compensating for the unfair competitive advantages of corporations, not your shrill accusation that we're trying to banish all corporate employees from the land. As for the plight of small businesses, don't blame that on the Guardian, which has long called for more progressive business tax structures that shift the burden from small businesses (which have been hit hard by myriad fee increases imposed by mayors who disingenuously insist on "no new taxes" budgeting) to large corporations, most of which pay no business taxes to a city whose services they rely on. But I suppose it's just simpler for you to blame everything on the progressives, who have never had any real power in City Hall.

Posted by steven on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

then that can only be because the voters don't trust them on business.

We saw that perfectly in last November's election. Lee stood unambiguously on a "pro-business and pro-jobs" mandate and, in the final analysis, cleared over 60% - the techical definition of a landslide.

Avalos rarely talked about business or the economy or jobs at all, much preferring to talk more about taxes and redistribution. Insofar as he had anything to say about jobs, it was something like the anti-business local hire laws, and the odd break here and there for mom'n'pop businesses.

The voters sent a very clear message - Lee got over 50% more votes than Avalos.

So if your pet politicians have never had any real power, then that's because the people didn't want them to. Do you have a problem with what the people want?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

>"Do you have a problem with what the people want?"

While we're waiting for a response I can tell you what the traditional Progressive line has been. That it isn't the voters who install moderate leaders, it is the dreaded 'downtown interests'. The voters, you see, are more or less mindless sheep. They instinctively fly towards the money like moths to a flame. Exposure to a few commercials turn voters into zombies who then sleepwalk to the polls and vote based on powerful subliminal messages force fed to them by business interests.

Did I get that right, Progressives?

Posted by Troll on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

Are you saying that advertising does not work? "In 2010, spending on advertising was estimated at $142.5 billion in the United States and $467 billion worldwide"

I remember reading about the Mexican election of 1994, when the US Democrat and Republican political machines expanded their operations south of the border and there was massive crowing about how finally, Mexicans would be subject to the kinds of campaigns in the US where candidates are marketed as political products to voters.

Marketing is a psychological intervention designed by those who know how the brain responds to repeated messaging. Either propaganda does not work or it does. Does it work on everyone? No, but it works on enough people so as to be a real thing.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 6:15 am

Unless you actually talked to every voter, you do not know what they actually want. Many voters do not take the time to research the diferences between the candidates and attend candidate forums. Instead its more like a horse race, make sure your candidate gets the top three postitions on your voting score card.

It's that simple.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 5:59 am

For ten years the the progressives were crowing about what good the majority on the board were doing, we were sung the praises of Ammiano, Daly, Peskin, Mirkirimi, etc... The visionary legislation was hazza-ed by the Guardian, and then we read that the progressive have never had any real power...

It's like the CIA, cut the budget and they claim poverty, give them more and they claim they can do even more with more.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

The real power in San Francisco's form of government lies with the Mayor's Office. Progressives had some power from 2000-2010 when they had a board majority, but not enough to override mayoral vetoes, set budget priorities, get more revenue from big corporations, or do anything when the mayor blocked funding for their programs. Yes, the progressives in power did some big and important things, usually when working with labor and other organized progressive constituencies to box the mayor in on the gap between his rhetoric and his actions. But to blame progressives for a business tax structure that isn't progressive enough (ie one that hurts small businesses) or for all the huge hidden fees the city now charges in order to balance its budgets without downtown's help is unfair and inaccurate.

Posted by steven on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

Marx understood that. Without a popular mandate, progressives will always lack power. How do you think that progressives should compromise in order to get more power? Clinton and Obama showed the way.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 5:31 pm

The endless fee's are a product of the progressives and their allies in various communities and in labour.

The ever increasing fee, fine and tax burden on the working folk in the city is a product of the progressives.

The progressives have been shown the door in part because you keep increasing the fees to pay for your constituency.

Inverse reasoning on your part.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

"...progressives, who have never had any real power in City Hall."

Didn't progressives have a majority on the Board of Supervisors for most of the last decade?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

Chains take $ from the area they're located so the area gets poorer. Chains don't have any connection to an area so they don't have any commitment to make the area better (the top execs generally live somewhere else). As for products, if a product is needed, it's available at the local stores. Yes it may be a bit more expensive but you get something a lot more valuable than that - a thriving local economy rather than a dying local economy (a description of one populated by chains).

The unemploymt rate would go down if chains left for more $ would stay here and thus more $ would circulate. You obviously are not an engineer (or I hope not!) for you have no sense about the flow of money. You don't realize the flow of money will be away from this area as more retail becomes chains.

You seem to be very math-challenged or if not, then you have a problem applying math to the real world. Or you could just be a Republican such that kissing ass to huge corps and dumping on local businesses is required to be one. Don't know which one it is but fortunately lots of San Franciscans know better than you.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

Ironically, the site that is being used for Target (at Geary) was itself a chain store for years (Sears). A lot of older San Franciscans miss that Sears. It's always a balancing act. If we can keep the chains out of the neighborhoods, that would be great. It's ridiculous to go to the corner of 9th and Irving and see Starbucks, Jamba Juice and B of A taking three of four corner retail spots.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 9:57 am

Agreed, I really prefer banking at the tons of mom and pop banks which currently exist.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 11:13 am

Greg: There are dozens of small, local community banks. I use Mechanic's Bank; there's MIssion Credit Union, Redwood Credit Union, SF Firefighter's Credit Union, and plenty more.

I get that you we're *trying* to be sarcastic, but it's actually really true that there are dozens of 'mom and pop banks' in the Bay Area. www.moveyourmoney.info

Posted by triple0 on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

for me? A letter of credit to export to Africa? A collateralized corporate loan with an equity option?

Take your time.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

Malls, Shopping Centers with big box value stores, strip malls. I think mostly like shop with saving money. I come from a large family where going to the chains meant getting good value for your dollar. Cute, quirky boutiques, or small shops are good but as for working class families it is a little different.

Posted by Garrett on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 10:11 am

they never sell anything that you need. In Noe Valley, you can buy an antique dress, some exotic jewellery or any amount of Tibetan shlock, but you can't buy a lightbulb or a carrot unless you go to - you've guessed it - WholeFoods.

Cute, quirky stores are for things you sometimes buy, and frivolously. Chain strores are for affordable, everyday items.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Only Nazi's buy light bulbs - they pollute the environment.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 11:36 am

This is San Francisco, not Sausalito or Carmel. Every neighborhood in the city has bodegas and small markets that sell lightbulbs and carrots. If you really think WholeFoods is the only way to obtain basic life necessities then why do you even want to live here? It's cheaper and easier to live in Walnut Creek, and it doesn't have all that cultural shlock that seems to bother you.

Posted by steven on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

AKA better step in line with the progressive ideals or G.T.F.O - youve been warned.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

Tell me where you'd buy a carrot or lightbulb in all those "oh so cute" stores?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

The comment about Steven biking down to Rainbow to pick up his chard was pretty apropos. This is SF in a nutshell. Who cares if you dont want to spend 50 bucks on a single sock made from angora wool sustainably harvested by a small tribe of peruvian lesbian vegans -
If you REALLY care about the following you will spend the money:
Mom and pop
the environment
SF
the living wage
Health care
paid time off

Not spending an exhorbitant amount of money on essentially a throw away item means you dont care about any of the above, and you should be kicked out of SF

Posted by Greg on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

lesbian collective. But it's interesting how Tim and Steven work their good-cop/bad-cop routine.

Tim's job is to oppose anyone in SF who is successful, prosperous, happy, housed, employed or otherwise the kind of person that any city on the planet would want.

Steven approaches the issue from the exact opposite. He supports anyone who is homeless, unemployed, over-sexed, useless, pot-smoking, produces bad art, rides a bike or is otherwise a drain on resources AKA a loser.

So we have Tim hating on winners and Steven loving on losers. You just can't make this stuff up.

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Posted by learning digital photography on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

and evidently that commenter does not meet Steven's standards for what someone living in SF should believe in and practice. Why doesn't that commenter just move to Walnut Creek?

Celebrate diversity indeed.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

What they really want SF to be is a community every bit as homogenous as Des Moines, except where the populace is non-white, non-straight, non-employed, non-successful, non-housed and non-prosperous.

If you don't smoke pot, don't ride a bike, don't produce bad (sorry, experimental) art, and aren't homeless and unemployed, then in SFBG's view, you have no place here.

The successful exist only to be taxed and mugged so the unsuccessful can live in a place they can't afford, and then spend all day doing nothing.

What a dream they have wrought.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

973.91 B^3r 65-0853^-95
Bell, Daniel, ed.

The radical right, The new
American right expanded and up-
dated. Garden City, N.Y*
Doubleday, 1963-

The Revolt Against the Elite 1955 141

If sociologists require a new term for this change (as if there
were not enough jargon already), then at least let it be a brief, un-
ponderous term. I would suggest the word "transtolerance" for
this curious interplay between the new tolerance and the new in-
tolerance. Transtolerance is ready to give all minorities their glorious
democratic freedom provided they accept McCarthyism or some
other mob conformism of Right or Left. I add "or Left" because
liberals sometimes assume conformism is inevitably of the Right* Yet
"Right" and "Left" are mere fluctuating pretexts, mere fluid sur-
faces for the deeper anti-individualism (anti-aristocracy) of the mass
man, who ten years ago was trying to thought-control our premature
anti-Communists as "warmongers" and who today damns them as
"Reds" and who ten years from now, in a new appeasement of
Russia, may again be damning them as "Wall Street warmongers"
and "disloyal internationalist bankers."

Transtolerance is the form that xenophobia takes when practiced
by a "xeno" Transtolerant McCarthyism is partly a movement of
recent immigrants who present themselves (not so much to the
world as to themselves) as a two hundred per cent hate-the-foreigner
movement. And by extension: Hate "alien" ideas. Transtolerance is
also a sublimated Jim Crow: against "wrong" thinkers, not "wrong"
races. As such, it is a Jim Crow that can be participated in with a
clear conscience by the new, non-segregated flag-waving Negio, who
will be increasingly emerging from the increased egalitarian laws
in housing and education. In the same way it is the Irishman's version
of Mick-baiting and a strictly kosher anti-Semitism. It veiy sincerely
champions against anti-Semites "that American Dreyfus, Roy Cohn";
simultaneously it glows with the same mob emotions that in all
previous or comparable movements have been anti-Semitic.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 6:15 pm