Since 2004, San Francisco has actively protected small businesses and the city’s character by placing light restrictions on formula retail. Specifically, if a chain has more than 11 locations in the U.S. and a standardized look, it’s considered suspect (with some exceptions, like gyms and medical offices). But it hasn’t worked out as well as it could, so today, the SF Business Times reports, the Planning Commission is considering strengthening the city’s anti-chain bias. Considering this is an issue that unites many progressives and many NIMBYs, it seems likely to pass.
In concrete terms, the Commission – and if it passes there, the Supervisors – will look at expanding the definition of “formula retail” to cover more types of businesses, accounting for a company’s international locations as well as domestic ones and changing the magic number from 11 to 19, and adding Mid-Market to its list of neighborhoods where chains are restricted. Racked notes that the Supervisors will also consider separate legislation penalizing commercial landlords who deliberately sit on vacant storefronts, anticipating fancier tenants who they can charge more and creating bits of urban blight in the process. (The soon-to-be-chopped-up-again Castro Street is particularly full of empty windows these days.)
Formula retail is labyrinthine. Because nothing in San Francisco is ever simple, neighborhoods are divided into several different zoning categories, with the result that chains are usually allowed in places like Union Square and Market Street but only permitted conditionally in more residential areas. Further, certain heritage districts like Chinatown or North Beach, and the high-end retail corridor that is Hayes Street in Hayes Valley ban them altogether (and soon, there may be more). If you’ve ever wondered why we have no Jack Spade on Valencia, but lots and lots of places to get a $5 foot-long, that’s partly why.
Image by Walter Green for The Bold Italic
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