The battle over Adobe Books’ former location heated up last week when the site’s new tenant, the high-end men’s retailer Jack Spade, had to halt construction. Work was stopped after a group of business owners with the Valencia Corridor Merchants Associations (VCMA) filed an appeal with the Planning Department alleging that Jack Spade, affiliated with luxury retailer Kate Spade, is a “formula retail” chain store, making it subject to more stringent planning rules.
In September, the Planning Department decided that because Jack Spade has fewer than 11 locations in the United States it is not formula retail as defined by the Planning Code.
With this determination, Jack Spade can bypass much of the additional processes required of formula retail, including approval by the planning commission at a public hearing.
The retailer officially moved into the 16th Street storefront on June 15 and began renovations on June 27, but was forced to stop just a few days later when the VCMA filed its appeal. On Aug. 21, the Board of Appeals will host a public hearing to determine the future of the space.
“We don’t have anything against Jack Spade or that brand. This is about protecting our community from formula retail. We just want to protect local small business,” said Jefferson McCarley, general manager of Mission Bicycle and a VCMA organizer.
When Jack Spade first requested a letter of determination about its status as formula retail, it had seven locations in the United States. That number has since risen to ten, making the proposed San Francisco location its eleventh location. The retailer also has three stores internationally.
To protect the local character of neighborhoods, the Planning Code defines formula retail based on whether businesses operate more than 11 stores in the United States and if those locations have a standardized look, feel, and merchandising.
According to the VCMA, the international locations and their connection to the large parent company Fifth & Pacific (formerly Liz Clairborne Holdings), whose brands also include Juicy Couture and Lucky Jeans, should be part of determining whether or not Jack Spade is indeed formula retail.
“They’re still one store under the legal limit, but we think it’s reasonable that the other [international] stores should be counted,” said McCarley. “There doesn’t seem to be anything that we’ve found that says parent companies or sister companies can’t be counted.”
Daniel Lahkman, Jack Spade’s director of marketing and creative, asserts that Jack Spade operates independently from other Fifth & Pacific brands. With 11 locations in the country and no plans for other stores, Lahkman believes that Jack Spade shouldn’t be considered a chain.
“The reality is that we’re a small niche, lifestyle brand, that operates as an independent business,” said Lahkman. “Fifth & Pacific doesn’t pay our rent, we pay our rent.”
McCarley finds the claims of Jack Spade’s independence dubious. “Money is accessible from brand to brand, they’re clearly sharing resources,” he said.
Fifth & Pacific’s website refers to Jack Spade as a brand under the umbrella of Kate Spade and doesn’t distinguish between the two in its earning reports. In the first quarter of 2013, Fifth & Pacific reported that net sales for the entire Kate Spade segment were $141 million.
Melissa Xides, Jack Spade’s vice-president of global sales and retail, argues that Jack Spade has separate design teams and strategies than other Fifth & Pacific brands. She also notes that each Jack Spade is customized to its location.
“We wanted to pick a neighborhood that fit our brand’s aesthetic,” said Xides. “We looked at other neighborhoods, but they just didn’t have the charm of the Mission… We have a history of going into characterful neighborhoods, and not mainstream retail spaces. This is no different to what we’ve done in the past.”
Jack Spade has locations in trendy shopping areas such as the Pearl District in Portland and Venice Beach in LA. Among numerous props and homey design elements, each store also contains a lending library. In its proposed Mission store, Xides says Jack Spade actually plans to partner with Adobe Books owner Andrew McKinley to curate the new library.
McKinley, who recently moved his bookstore to 24th Street, said that although a Jack Spade representative bought 15 boxes of books from his store, he doesn’t consider that a partnership.
“Early on they made a vague offer to share space with us,” added Kyle Knobel, who manages Adobe’s public relations. “But we felt like it would be more of a service to them than to us.”
Xides believes that much of the dispute over Jack Spade’s presence in the Mission derives from a general lack of brand awareness. She asserts that if people better understand the “eclectic” style of Jack Spade, they’d appreciate how it fits in among the vintage stores, cafes, and art galleries of 16th Street.
“I think when people get to know what Jack Spade is about, that we don’t belong in places that are more commercial, they’ll believe we will be a good fit in the Mission and that we’ll respect what goes on there.”
For the VCMA, Jack Spade’s aesthetics matter less than the economics of a company with an international presence opening shop in a highly competitive environment.
“The majority of every dollar spent at a local business goes back into community,” said Eileen Hassi, owner of Ritual Roaster and member of VCMA. “This company is based in New York; the higher paying jobs are going to be in New York. That has a big impact.”
Though Jack Spade plans to hire San Francisco residents to manage its new store and says it will work with local groups in the Mission, members of the VCMA have been frustrated in their attempts to reach the company for discussions.
“They stated that they reach out to community, that they’re very involved in local neighborhoods, but they won’t even return our phone calls,” said McCarley.
For his part, Lahkman says he has no knowledge of any attempts by the VCMA to contact Jack Spade.
Mission merchants have long been opposed to formula retail. When American Apparel tried to open a store on Valencia Street in 2009 it faced large-scale community opposition during the Planning Commission’s initial conditional use hearings. Following this response, the retailer ultimately chose not to go forward with its plans.
Although American Apparel had over 200 international locations in 2009 while Jack Spade has only 14 internationally, the VCMA believes that Jack Spade will face similar opposition during the appeals process.
“I’m more optimistic than ever before. I actually believe that we’re going to win this,” said McCarley.
Xides says that she was aware of the American Apparel debate before Jack Spade came to the Mission, but that “It’s laughable to be compared to American Apparel… We’re not that company.”
Until the Aug. 21 hearing, both sides will continue their efforts. While finalizing its case for the Board of Appeals, the VCMA will continue to gather signatures on a petition and put up posters on Valencia Street. Jack Spade has hired a local store manager who will try to “connect and share our story,” said Xides.
Meanwhile, the storefront on 16th Street with the long and increasingly contentious history sits boarded, shuttered, and gutted, awaiting an uncertain future.