The blighted, vacant storefront at 3166 16th Street is modest in size — 6,000 square feet sandwiched between a greasy spoon Chinese restaurant and a consignment shop. Yet as the thwarted location of luxury retailer Jack Spade, the spot has taken on a disproportional significance in the Mission District: the place that may have tipped the power dynamics in San Francisco’s most coveted neighborhood towards the growing anti-displacement forces.
The “Jack Off” fundraiser, the bawdy seamen protest (pun very much intended), and the pro-gentrification quote of the year have entered another colorful chapter into the Mission’s recent history. But the issues raised by the raucous, and ultimately successful, battle in the Mission will inform the incoming citywide debate on chains.
Jack Spade — which had not technically met the definition of a chain store, yet was owned by a company that certainly did — will likely be held up as an important example as the Board of Supervisors is poised to make it harder for any business that even looks like a chain from moving into the city. Following a study currently underway by the Planning Commission, the board is slated to debate a slew of chain store proposals in March.
The Mission has always been home to a feisty dissent to gentrifying forces. Yet lately, the Jack Spade fight coupled with the 1050 Valencia condo project — in which neighborhood opposition successfully fought to lower a new development’s height — and even the hold ups of tech buses on Valencia and 24th, pro-development factions see an unsettling trend. Among them, Phil Lesser, a long-time business consultant and paid lobbyist for Jack Spade, sees the forces growing new teeth — even as new projects build up in San Francisco at a breakneck speed.
“What you saw in the Mission, it has spilled over to all of San Francisco…things have become so ‘anti’ in SF, they have become ‘anti-anti,’” Lesser said. “Large groups of people don’t care that zoning is what it is and they carry an enormous amount of weight if they can get four votes on the Board of Appeals, or a ballot initiative like what happened with the 8 Washington Project,” he said, referencing the waterfront luxury condos that were challenged and defeated in November’s elections.
Yet the Jack Spade debate, specifically, showed that the quashing of American Apparel’s bid to move in on the street in 2009 wasn’t just a fluke — but an indication of a powerful alliance ready to fight all future formula retail invaders. The opposition itself offered analysis of how they prevailed in the Jack Spade victory, since “this likely won’t be the last attempt” of formula retail entering the neighborhood. (Among the tactics: using the narrative of big business displacing a small bookstore, and sticking to the fight).
“If anyone is thinking of doing something that’s formula retail, alarm bells are going to go off,” said Don Alan, the former president of the Mission Merchants Association and owner of Casanova Lounge on Valencia.
Many of the same speakers will likely opine later this year when the Board of Supervisors takes up the debate. Among several district-specific legislation, Supervisor Eric Mar has been working on an expansive citywide proposal. The Board of Supervisors has determined it will wait for the Planning Commission’s review — due in March — prior to taking action on any of the legislation.
The Mission squabbles will likely keep coming as Jack Spade’s bid for seedy-chic 16th Street (a stretch with both high-end boutiques and SROs) seals the Mission District’s status as a destination for global marketers. With increased affluence and greater national visibility, the Mission has undeniably become a tantalizing locale for luxury lifestyle brands seeking the cultural capital of a hip neighborhood — added to the actual capital that comes from one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. Already, Aesop, an Australia-based perfume company, announced plans to move in on Valencia Street last month.
“I think that [Jack Spade] gave a face to a lot of private battles going on in the neighborhood,” said Alicia Gamez, an attorney who volunteered her legal know-how to both the campaigns against Jack Spade and 1050 Valencia. “The Jack Spade debate is part of what’s happening in San Francisco and the Mission. The affordability crisis is real.”
Affordability ended up playing a pivotal role in the Jack Spade fight. Brett Lockspeiser, a member of the Adobe Books Collective that was the former tenant in the Jack Spade space, testified that the landlord wouldn’t accept any offer from the bookstore because he believed Jack Spade was willing to pay a higher rate. It had a strong effect on the Board of Appeals’ thinking.
“The issue of escalating rents leads to a manifest injustice,” said commissioner Frank Fung when casting the decisive vote to rehear the Jack Spade case. Two days after that decision, Jack Spade reps announced they were abandoning their Mission plans.
The anti-Jack Spade forces made for a coalition of groups that at times proved to be strange bedfellows: Valencia merchants who have similar price points and boutique-like aesthetics as Jack Spade joining with community groups that work for the rights of low-income residents like People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER) and Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA), housing rights non-profits, homeless service agencies, and many longtime Mission residents upset with the increasing rents.
“Certainly it was the Valencia merchants and the Latino activists that came together to oppose Jack Spade,” said Christina Olague, the former planning commissioner and District 5 supervisor. “There was an irony to it — because a lot of people consider the Valencia merchants kind of gentrifying.” Still, the opposition acknowledges it was a smart tactic, remarking on its website that moving the lens away from just merchants worried about real estate onto the entire community.
The Jack Spade spat also ratcheted up the stakes of the pending city legislation around chain stores — with state assemblyman Tom Ammiano and former supervisor Matt Gonzalez weighing in on the intent of the original laws they wrote in 2004. Now, the current supervisors have introduced a bevy of new legislation that would broaden the city’s existing laws — either by adding new zones that would require chains receive a special permit, or expanding the definition of formula retail to reflect international companies or those owned by a corporate entity like Jack Spade.
“We had started thinking about doing this before this [Jack Spade] story had surfaced,” said Nick Pagoulatos, aide to Supervisor Eric Mar. “But the fact that it had become such a pitched battle, made us want to move along more quickly.”
Mar’s legislation — which will likely be debated in March, according to Pagoulatos — would expand the city’s definition of chains to consider corporate ownership, international locations and local economic impact. It also would add personal service types of businesses like gyms and beauty parlors not previously included in the law.
Jack Spade announced it would pull out of the Mission, yet still has not rescinded their building permits. Another Board of Appeals hearing is still on the books for January 29 though Jack Spade says they have no intention of attending.
“The permit is still opened as we are still wrapping up some loose ends for the landlord so he can lease the space to another tenant,” said Jack Spade vice president Melissa Xides.
To underline the point Bill McComb, CEO of parent company Fifth & Pacific, wrote the following email to Mission Local Thursday:
For the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association — the organizers of the “Jack Off Valencia Party” fundraiser and petition against the potential new neighbor — the chain’s defeat doesn’t mean that no chain or new development will ever move into the Mission — just that they better make friends in the neighborhood first.
“I don’t think it means that there could never be formula retail again,” said Jonathan Plotzker, owner of Aggregate Supply and spokesperson for the Valencia merchants. “If a developer reaches out to us, that’s a whole different story.”