More merchants and workers on 16th Street appear to be on the fence than decisively for or against the men’s luxury retailer Jack Spade moving into the former site of Adobe books at 3166 16th Street.
In a door-to-door survey of 68 businesses on 16th street between Dolores and Mission streets, Mission Local interviewed a mix of employees and owners, finding 12 in favor of Jack Spade’s arrival and 16 against it. The largest group, at 24 respondents, said they were either undecided or too conflicted to state a preference.
It is likely that some of these views will be heard at an upcoming public Board of Appeals hearing at 5 p.m., Aug. 14 at City Hall.
“Can I say I’m Maybe for or against?” asked Sasha Wingate owner of Bell Jar. “I’d love to see a cool, rad small business go in there, but I just want something to go in soon. It’s been really hard being on 16th now.”
Many businesses hadn’t heard about the issue at all, and didn’t have a strong opinion.
“I honestly haven’t thought about it that much,” said Mike Zeidan of Randa’s Market. “One thing is that it could spike rents. Otherwise, if it’s bringing nice people to the neighborhood, that’s positive.”
For some longtime residents of 16th Street who have already seen a tremendous amount of change in the neighborhood, one more high-end retailer in the Mission doesn’t feel like a big development.
“I’m neutral because I’ve been here for 12 years,” said Martin Economou, owner of Martin’s Emporium. “You take a look at Valencia and it’s so fancy now. It’s so different. It’s hard to stop the change. I don’t like what’s happening, but it’s still happening.”
The future of the proposed site of Jack Spade has become the focal point for a debate involving chain stores, community safety, and the very character of the Mission since it first publicly expressed interest in opening a San Francisco location last summer.
On one side of the debate, a group of merchants called the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association have organized to oppose the arrival of Jack Spade. They argue that its affiliation with the large designer bag brand kate spade and its much larger parent company Fifth & Pacific would erode the neighborhood’s local retail scene, by both wielding a significant economic impact on nearby rents and undermining the Mission’s historic independence and unique character.
On the other side, Jack Spade argues that its arrival would ultimately be good for this particular stretch of the Mission by bringing more foot traffic to neighboring businesses and occupying a storefront that has been vacant for many weeks. Furthermore, Jack Spade argues that it operates independently from its parent company and shouldn’t be considered a big company.
Both sides believe the overall preferences of 16th Street merchants are in their favor.
“It’s becoming extremely apparent that the merchants on the 3100 block of 16th Street don’t feel represented by the Valencia merchants association,” said Phil Lesser a local paid consultant of Jack Spade.
Jefferson McCarley, general manager of Mission Bicycle and one of the Valencia association’s organizers, said that if there’s any local business in support of Jack Spade moving in he “doesn’t know who they are.”
However, as our survey indicates, 16th Street is conflicted, with many merchants caught somewhere in between straight forward support and opposition. Any business owner wanting to add or change their views, can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will keep our interactive map current throughout the debate.
68 Businesses, 68 Opinions, One Street
Of those opposed to Jack’s Spade arrival, many cite the risk of rising rents pushing out longtime business owners and residents. Given Jack Spade’s connection to a large parent company, many merchants fear the larger company will be able to pay greater rents and neighboring landlords will in turn ask more of existing tenants. In its final months, Adobe Books’ rent went from $4,600 to $8,000. The opposing campaign speculate that Jack Spade is paying at least $10,000 in rent.
“Jack Spade would be yet another force in gentrifying the neighborhood, which ultimately means displacing primarily low-income communities of color, many who have been in the community for generations,” said Megan Wilson who does development work for the Roxie Theater.
Also at risk for those opposed to Jack Spade is the very character and soul of the neighborhood.
Wilson adds that Jack Spade “will help to create an environment that is void of character and just another corridor for high end commerce. Jack Spade belongs in a shopping mall downtown, not in the Mission.”
Jack Kobey of Idol Vintage, which would be Jack Spade’s closest neighbor, echoed fears about the potential effects of Jack Spade’s economic power on the small business community.
“It’s going to be unattainable for businesses to stay on the block. It’s very hard to compete with that kind of buying power,” he said.
Immediately across 16th Street from Idol Vintage, Benny Gold, owner of the apparel store of the same name, disagreed.
“Sixteenth Street is a lot different then the rest of the Valencia corridor,” said Gold. “We have two transient hotels, ten or so bars and multiple liquor stores…With the street’s current condition I think that Jack Spade will definitely be a benefit to the area.”
Observations about the sometimes challenging nature of operating businesses along the 16th Street corridor came up in numerous conversations. Merchants mentioned nearby drug trafficking, recent shootings, and a large homeless population that lives near Jack Spade’s potential storefront.
“I hope they know what they’re in for,” said Lalo Morales, bartender at Gestalt. “It’s a rough neighborhood at night. Once they close, the nightlife takes over. I hope they have that extra protection on their glass.”
Joked Skylark bar owner Steve Engelbrecht: “Nobody wants to get a needle in their foot when buying a $400 handbag.”
The Valencia merchants group, comprised of eight core members, collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition to oppose Jack Spade. In addition, they have several letters of support from businesses owners and community groups including one from Supervisor David Campos. Seven merchants along 16th Street are also sponsoring the appeal, including Needles & Pens, Alhamra Restaurant, and Katz Bagels.
Jack Spade too has gathered letters from business owners and community members. It will submit eight signed letters of support to the Board of Appeals requesting that the store be allowed to go forward with its move. The letter cites the need for a new business due to “a high incidence of panhandling, graffiti and criminal activity,” made worse by a vacant storefront. Among those businesses submitting signatures for this letter are Bell Jar, Cary Lane, Monk’s Kettle, and Gestalt.
Despite these formal shows of support or opposition, many merchants displayed much more ambivalence and wavering opinions when interviewed by Mission Local. Even within a single business, there were sometimes more than one opinion on Jack Spade.
Wingate of Bell Jar signed a letter supporting Jack Spade, but expressed conflicted feelings when in conversation. Her priority is for any viable business to move in on 16th Street as soon as possible in order “boost it and help clean it up.” However, she expressed mixed feelings about Jack Spade itself.
“If it’s Jack Spade then so be it,” said Wingate. “It’s not that I support them specifically, I just support business on my block.”
Aijaz Ghani, owner of Alhamra Restaurant, signed the Jack Spade opposition campaign’s appeal, but admits to feeling two ways about the issue, saying simply: “There’s always two points to every argument.”
Perhaps in part due to the prior canvassing efforts of the Valencia merchants association and Jack Spade representatives, some merchants felt wary of sharing an opinion publicly, ambivalent about favoring one side or the other.
Hearing it all out
On Aug. 14, the community will have an opportunity to publicly voice its opinions on Jack Spade’s arrival. The Board of Appeals will host a hearing to determine whether or not the Valencia Merchants association has the jurisdiction to challenge the Planning Department’s initial Letter of Determination stating that Jack Spade is not “formula retail,”or a chain store.
Under the city’s zoning rules for the Mission, retailers with 11 or more U.S. pre-existing locations must seek special permission to move in. When they requested a Letter of Determination from the Planning Department, Jack Spade had six U.S. locations and three international ones. Therefore, the Planning Department determined that it could move into the Mission without the stringent permitting process required of a larger chain store. Jack Spade has since opened four more locations, making its future San Francisco space the 11th.
The Valencia merchants group hope to appeal this Planning Department decision.
When American Apparel tried to open a location on Valencia Street, their large size necessitated a conditional use hearing. After a huge outpouring of neighborhood opposition, the large retailer abandoned its plans for the Mission.
Whenever the Planning Department issues Letter of Determinations relevant community groups are notified and given 15 days to appeal the decision. In Jack Spade’s case, no group immediately filed an appeal so they began the process of moving into the Mission and finalizing their lease.
However, the Valencia merchants association is requesting that the Board of Appeals give them the opportunity to file a late appeal based on three main arguments.
For one, members of the association said they should have been informed of the Letter of Determination that first exempted Jack Spade from the formula retail restrictions. That letter was first issued in September 2012. They only learned about it in March 2013 when Uptown Almanac ran a story about the Jack Spade’s efforts.
The association alleges that it was not notified in a timely manner due in part to the actions of Phil Lesser, Jack Spade’s local paid consultant.
Of the 36 community groups who were sent a courtesy copy of the Letter of Determination, one of them was addressed to Lesser as the representative of the Mission Merchant’s Association, a larger, older group that shares members with the Valencia group.
The Valencia association believes that Lesser had a conflict of interest as a Jack Spade consultant, and may have intentionally kept the Mission Merchant’s Association’s copy of the Letter of Determination and instructions for appealing from the group’s general membership.
“I never heard of Jack Spade until April , and they never heard about Phil Lesser,” said Lesser claiming that no conflict of interest existed when community groups were first alerted of the Letter of Determination in September of 2012. He added that he was the group’s president ten years ago and was no longer responsible for checking the Mission Merchants Association’s mail.
The crux of the Valencia association’s argument centers around the relationship of Jack Spade and its parent company kate spade, which is owned by Fifth & Pacific, a large company which also counts Juicy Couture and Lucky Brand among its businesses.
In its initial request of determination to the Planning Department, Jack Spade co-leader Melissa Xides wrote that “Jack Spade is an independent enterprise in all respects relevant to Formula Retail classification.”
The Valencia group believes this claim is false and misrepresented Jack Spade to the Planning Department. They argue that Jack Spade shares many resources with its large parent company.
“There’s no distinction between a kate spade and Jack Spade,” said McCarley. “A spade is a spade.”
Finally, the Valencia group will argue that Jack Spade’s entrance into the 16th Street Corridor will have a damaging effect on the well-being of the neighborhood citing a recent rent hike of 44 percent for Jack Spade’s closest neighbor Idol Vintage.
The Aug. 14 Board of Appeals hearing is open to public comment. Given all the opinions and vested interests, both sides can agree on at least one thing: it’s going to be a packed house.
Battle in a war
Though the Board of Appeals hearing could determine the fate of the Valencia association’s campaign, there’s no reason to think this fight will cease anytime soon. There’s another hearing to appeal Jack Spade’s building permit scheduled for August 21, which will focus on many of the same issues. Though the outcome of this week’s hearing will affect whether the Board of Appeals will hear this issue again.
The Valencia group recently held a fundraiser, cheekily titled “Jack Off,” at the Makeout Room to raise money for all the fees and costs associated with the appeals process. They raised $3000 through an auction hosted by “Chicken” John Rinaldi.
“It was to raise money for this and future fights,” said Dema Grim owner of the clothing store DEMA and organizing member of the Valencia merchants association. “I have a feeling this one will drag on for a while.”
Debates about chain stores have popped up in neighborhoods throughout the city, catching the attention of some members of the Board of Supervisors. In Hayes Valley, Supervisor London Breed hopes to pass legislation that would completely ban a company from moving into her district if it has more than 11 international locations.
Early this month, Supervisor Eric Mar submitted legislation that would change how the entire city defines chains stores. The new definition would include counting international locations and would examine the amount of control held by a parent company.
“This is the beginning,” said Kyle Smeallie a volunteer with the campaign opposing Jack Spade. “A battle in a war.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that eight merchants along 16th Street were sponsoring the appeal. The article has been updated on Aug. 15 to correct that number to seven merchants, to reflect a change in opinion from Body Manipulations.