Small Business Commissioners support Pet Food Express over local stores

Does giving money to the city turn a big corporation into a small business that has simply swelled with its own success?

San Francisco’s Small Business Commission has recently come under fire for its promotion of corporate interests and, most recently, advocating for an allegedly predatory pet store chain known as Pet Food Express.

In 2009, the Small Business Commission voted in favor of denying Pet Food Express’ application for a location on Lombard Street in the Marina District. Subsequently, the Planning Commission also denied the request, seemingly blocking Pet Food Express’ efforts to set up shop in the Marina. 

San Francisco’s formula retail legislation requires chain stores like Pet Food Express to apply for a conditional use permit in order to receive approval for opening new locations.

But now, Pet Food Express is back after recently filing another identical application with the SBC for the exact same spot on Lombard Street, and this time some members of the SBC are oddly supporting the chain.

As Pam Habel, owner of local Marina pet store Catnip & Bones, pointed out at the commission meeting on June 10, Pet Food Express already has a location on California Street just one mile away. At the same meeting, Susan Landry, owner of another Marina pet store, Animal Connection, added that nothing has changed in the past four years that would point toward the Marina community needing or wanting this Pet Food Express, since four pet-related stores exist within a mile of the proposed Lombard Street location.

“We were really surprised and disappointed that the commission no longer seemed to be an advocate of small business and even made comments indicating sympathy for the big chain pet store,” Habel and Landry, told the Bay Guardian jointly via email. “Commissioner Adams even said it seemed unfair to him to penalize a business that had started out small and now are being victimized for their success since they are one of the largest pet store chains in the U.S.”

So what has changed since 2009 that is now making the SBC consider supporting the proposed Pet Food Express? For one, Mayor Ed Lee’s corporate-friendly appointees to the SBC, including developer Luke O’Brien and President Stephen Adams, a manager for Sterling Bank & Trust.

Additionally, San Francisco Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz lobbied for approval of the Pet Food Express while holding a blind Chihuahua adorned with a sweater at the June 10 meeting. Katz cited Pet Food Express’ many financial contributions to her agency as reasoning behind supporting the chain’s new location and expansion. According to Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Deb Campbell, Pet Food Express donates an estimated $50,000 to $70,000 in supplies annually to the city department.

“The more business Pet Food Express does, the more they grow and the more they give back to the community,” Katz told the Bay Guardian. “We take in about 10,000 animals a year on a budget of about $40 million.”

Kathleen Dooley, one of the SBC’s few existing members still in favor of promoting local business over big business, met Katz’s lobbying with criticism.

“She went up and lobbied for Pet Food Express and implied if it wasn’t for them no pets would be adopted and the animal world would be in chaos,” Dooley told the Bay Guardian. “They already have a number of stores in San Francisco, but they act as if this one on Lombard would change the tide.”

But Katz says that her public promotion of Pet Food Express is not lobbying. “I spoke to the Ethics Commission and they told me it is okay for me to talk about what Pet Food Express does for us,” said Katz.

Few of the arguments in favor of the Pet Food Express’s intrusion into the Marina actually acknowledge the store’s potential detrimental impact on the existing local businesses. Katz even publically said she thought it was ironic to protest another corporation coming into the Marina, where so many chain businesses already exist.

“The size of the Lombard location would allow for an adoption center which would have a huge impact,” said Katz. “Whereas residents have to drive to the California Street location, now they could walk.”

Unfortunately for local Marina businesses, the SBC, whose professed goal is to “work to support and enhance an environment where small businesses can succeed and flourish,” may be doing just the opposite by supporting a chain business that will undoubtedly endanger the many locally owned pet stores.

“As small businesses in San Francisco, we rely on the SBC as our voice at City Hall, not as a sympathetic voice for chain stores,” said Habel and Landry. “Because of their response last month, we no longer feel that we can look to the SBC to support small business in San Francisco.”

In her presentation before the commission, Landry drew an analogy to the previous opening of a Blockbuster on Lombard Street. Following the corporation’s entrance into the community, all four independent video stores in Cow Hollow closed within a year.

At the same meeting, Commissioner Mark Dwight acknowledged the predatory nature of Pet Food Express, who has sat on the same property for four years in order to continuously rally support in favor of the proposed location.

The pet supply stores in the Marina could face the same fate as the local video rental shops if Pet Food Express succeeds in opening on Lombard Street.

“When chain stores go in, commercial rents go up and the small mom and pop businesses are priced out of the neighborhood and replaced by even more chain stores as they are the only ones who, with their corporate structures, can easily afford high rents,” said Landry and Habel. “This is about more than one Pet Food Express application on Lombard, this is part of our battle to retain the heart and soul of our neighborhood commercial corridors.”


The only business who seek protection are those who know they don't provide value.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

The only commenters that generalize all businesses into one sentence are those that know they can't provide value with actual knowledge and insight into an issue.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 2:58 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

The only commenters that generalize all businesses into one sentence are those that know they can't provide value with actual knowledge and insight into an issue.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

and not "THAT generalize".

Start fixing your grammar if you want to be deemed smart here.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

is acceptable; "which" would be unacceptable.

Still stumped by "its" vs. "it's" and the proper use of apostrophes?

Posted by Grammar Pig on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

reference to people not things. It follows that "which" is also wrong.

Guest used "it's" correctly as in a contraction of "it is".

Admitting a mistake is generally preferable to trying to bluff your way out of it and digging a bigger hole for yourself, credibility-wise.

Posted by anon on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 5:36 am

You're detrimental to SF and whatever neighborhood you're in if you don't support local businesses. You are a cancer to the block you live on, the district you're in, the City you're in. If the neighbors know what's good for them, they will do all they can to get such a cancer away from them.

As for your point, it's idiotic - for to think publicly-owned corporate stores don't have an inherent advantage is idiotic. And to think those stores are as good for the community and city as an independent business is idiotic.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

better than an out-of-town or national business.

I buy my books on the internet because they are cheaper than my local bookstore (the saving on sales tax is just a bonus).

If you cannot compete on price, then what are you going to compete on?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

Anyone notice that Blockbuster, along with virtually every other video rental shop, has closed their doors. Netflix, anyone.
And by the way, who approved the Applebee's at Fisherman's wharf. If anything says "Frisco", its' an Applebees.

Posted by Richmondman on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

I'd rather stick pins in my eye than eat there myself, but I don't see why others who might like the joint should be denied the opportunities.

I was sad that the Hooters there closed though.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

If you want to run a small local business then you need to figure out a way to appear as a better option to a significant percentage of the local market. Learn your customers names and their needs. Figure out a healthy lifestyle for their pets.

But your business shouldn't require that the government step in to squash alternatives that could conceivably offer customers some services that you aren't.

Also, the whole discussion is moot. Blockbuster and Borders did indeed squash all the local video and book stores. And when was the last time that you saw a Blockbuster or a Borders? People are going to give their money to the best service. The government can't help you out of that one.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

it will flourish anyway. If it is not, it should perish. What it should not have is some political preference or advantage. Let consumers decide what business choices they want, and not some activist, ideolog or bureaucrat.

Posted by anon on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

The SBC has become a joke. How can an owner of a bank, as President of the SBC, and a developer as Vice president of the SBC, be trusted to preside over the interests of small mom and pop business' in San Francisco? Further, do you folks remember when Commissioner O'Brien was the President, and Commissioner Adams was the Vice President? Well, at election time for the commission, magically, the dynamic duo just swapped positions! Blocking out other well qualified candidates that sat on the commission whom would have been genuine advocates of the small business community in SF, and would have been true to the purpose and definition as to why the SBC was established in the first place. As for business competition, I'm all for it. If the playing field was level. Really, would you put a 250 boxer in the ring to compete against a light weigh boxer? No, it would be a slaughter. This is also why the winner of the Super Bowl picks last in the NFL level the playing field, and so on, to maintain parity. Mom and Pop pet stores cannot compete economically, or on any other level with Pet Food Express. (I believe 45 stores and counting).They are just to big of a formula retail chain store. They're one goal is to dominate the pet store industry in SF and put mom and pop pet stores out of business. Otherwise, why would they want to open another big box formula retail chain store 1 mile from their California St. big box store? It's wholly unfair for Pet Food Express to come into the Marina and poach the customers that those two small pet stores in the area worked so hard over the years to acquire and establish. Pet Food Express is not even headquartered in San Francisco! Wake up San Franciscans, or your city streets will look like strip malls in short order.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

Not sure exactly what you mean about the small store not being able to compete with the big guys. Assuming that you mean that the big guy can offer a larger product selection at better prices, then, guess what -- a lot of pet owners have cars and on the way back from Trader Joes they'll just stop at the nearest Pet Food Express and stock up. I assume that the stuff is heavy and probably worth a car trip anyway.

So yes, you can punish Pet Food Express and the landlord hoping to lease to them but, unfortunately, you can't pass a law requiring people to buy stuff from the little guy if they can get a better deal elsewhere.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

Pet Food Express, Petco, Pet Supplies Plus, PetSmart...

Sorry, local suppliers, my latest shipment of 2 30-pound bags of premium duck and bison based food was shipped to my door by Amazon on Sunday. The "5-7 day" shipment arrived the second day after it was ordered, glad I didn't pay for any faster. If I see it any cheaper in your shops, you win instead!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

So let me see if I understand the depth of your selfishness. You have a way to buy the same product at a lower cost and with greater convenience.

And just because of that you aren't going to pay more money and lug the stuff home in order to help out our local businesses?

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

Pet Food Express, Petco, Pet Supplies Plus, PetSmart... Will there be border inspections and tariffs on neighborhood-destroying "outside" goods imported into SF?

Sorry, local suppliers, my latest shipment of 2 30-pound bags of premium duck and bison based food was shipped to my door by Amazon on Sunday. The "5-7 day" shipment arrived the second day after it was ordered, glad I didn't pay for any faster. If I see it any cheaper in your shops, you win instead!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

Is this the same Pet Food Express that won the Bay Guardian's award for best local pet store 2 years ago? It began in SF, is locally-owned, and is not a public company. If the 2 local stores were doing such a good job serving their community, why in the world would they lose customers to Pet Food Express?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 8:52 am

between local and national? Or for that matter, good and evil?

Let businesses do what they are supposed to do - compete for our dollars. The invisible hand works better than a petty bureaucrat.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:17 am

Pet Food Express has 49 stores -- -- including three in San Francisco. They aren't simply a small business that has become successful, it's a different animal entirely, operating on different principles, driven by the imperative to keep growing and gobbling up more market share.

As such, they enjoy an economies of scale that stand-alone pet stores simply can't compete with on price, a principle of economics that is well understood outside of pseudo-libertarian blog commenter circles. Even Adam Smith, who you seem to be referencing, understood the need for progressive taxation and protection of local markets, theorizing that while "the market" may see to overall needs, if has some destructive byproducts that need to be regulated and offset.

Most San Franciscans also understand that national chains will squeeze out small businesses if given the opportunity, which is why voters approved the formula retail legislation. It's also why we have a Small Business Commission, specifically to see to the needs and interests of small businesses. Get it? Smaller businesses are the backbone of San Francisco's economy, keeping our dollars circulating in our community. For more on this concept and the disturbing breakdown of San Francisco's support for small businesses, read this cover story I wrote on the topic last year: 



Posted by steven on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

that is only because large businesses like BofA and Wells have left SF because of the high taxes, invasive regulations and anti-business prejudice here.

While most growing successful companies locate themselves in neighboring counties for similar sound business reasons e.g. Apple, Google etc.

So that only leave the groovy little enterprises that you seem so besotted with.

Somewhere you have bought into this idea that small businesses are "good" and that big businesses are "bad".

As a consumer and investor, I perceive no such dichotomy. I want cheap prices and good value when I buy, and sounds fiscals and an expansionary strategy for my investments. I cannot get that with some bloated store on Valencia staffed by people who look like extra's from a vampire movie.

Posted by anon on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

But they are still a local one. AS the headline and the article failed to distinguish.

Posted by Whackamole on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

part of being large is having a lot of locations everywhere.

It's an arbitary distinction though. When does small suddenly become large. How do you measure size?

Even on the stock market, there is disagreement about that, and there there are small, medium and large cap stocks.

Again, what about a foreign company that has just one location in the US, and it is in San Francisco? How do you categorize that?

Again, there are large ethical companies and small unethical companies.

Overall, I do not think the categorization is that ehlpful.

Posted by anon on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

I own a local store in SF, and I dont like the pressure these chains put on my pricing.
The customers that shop in my store dont mind paying more for mom and pop, so I have quite a bit of leeway on markup.
When a chain comes into the picture, my bottom line deflates siginificantly.

Posted by Rhinna Sante on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:14 am

"bottom line" is better?

Why would I vote for that?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:27 am

Petfood Express is in fact a local store. It just happens to be pretty successful and has expanded to be a semi large local chain, but it is still very much a local store. Started in West Portal. Google is your Friend Alex.

Posted by Whackamole on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 10:47 am

While Pet Food Express was once a local business, they have expanded outside of San Francisco into Southern CA and the East Bay. The fact that they started locally in West Portal has nothing to do with their status right now as a continually expanding chain store. If you support them or not, they still cannot be classified as a small, local business. Locations can be seen on Google Maps.

Posted by Alex on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

it must somehow be evil or undesirable. For many consumers, the exact opposite is true.

For instance, I travel a lot, so I like companies that exist in other parts of the US, and also overseas. So for a bank, I like Citi or JPMorgan. For an airline United or American. For cars, Ford. And so on.

Posted by anon on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

It's called the Small Business Commission, not the Local Business Commission, which would include every business in San Francisco. And there's a good reason why the distinction is made between small businesses and chain stores, the latter being predatory on the former.

Posted by steven on Jul. 01, 2013 @ 10:17 am

I support Pet Food Express opening on Lombard and other sites in SF. PFE helps to save 100s, if not 1,000s of animals lives with their adoption program with ACC and large donations to our city shelter. PFE gives to the community. I shop PFE and local pet food stores I respect. I will not shop at unfriendly local pet food stores that do not contribute to needy and abandoned animals. Every store opening and consumer decision needs to be decided on its own merits.

Posted by Guest arl on Jul. 22, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

Pet Food Express is a big box chain store corporation. Period. 49 locations (and growing). Period. San Francisco has an ordinance opposing big box chain store corporations locating near small stores. Period. Rebecca Katz of AC&C has been purchased by PFE. Period. Who will they buy next?

Posted by Guest steve on Jul. 26, 2013 @ 9:56 am

the budget for SF ACC is four million, not forty million as mis-stated here, as they need al the support they can get..

And I very much support PFE for all that they do for the animal welfare community as well as myself, as a customer. I have the RIGHT to shop were I want, and it is at PFE. .

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