Chain Store Rules Revisited by Commission

Mission residents at a Planning Commission hearing in February 2009, when the potential opening of the chain clothing store American Apparel was being considered.

San Francisco has had its long battles with chain stores. And dueling proposals aiming to tighten chain store restrictions will be considered by the Planning Commission today at noon.

One draft city ordinance was created by the Commission. The other was put forth by Supervisor Eric Mar. Though both proposals for the most part make it harder for formula retail businesses to open new locations in San Francisco, they take slightly different approaches. Currently, stores that have a standardized appearance and 11 or more U.S. locations are considered chains, or “formula retail.” Mar’s proposal expands that definition to include stores with 11 locations worldwide. The Commission’s proposal allows for 19 worldwide locations before a store is considered a chain.

A proposed Mission location for Jack Spade, a subsidiary of the chain clothing retailer Kate Spade, was at the center of a controversy over chain store restrictions last year. Under Mar’s proposal, if a formula retail parent owned more than 50 percent of a store, that subsidiary would also be considered a chain.

Currently, only some kinds of stores are considered formula retail—mostly places that sell tangible goods, like bars, cafes, liquor stores, movie theaters and banks. Both Mar’s and the Commission’s proposals would expand the types of retail that would fit this chain definition. Future restrictions could apply to ATMs, hotels, hair salons and smoke shops, among others.

Before the Commission considers the proposals, the city’s chief economist, Ted Egan, will present an Economic Impact Report (EIR). Released in February, the EIR predicts that either of these increased chain store regulations will not expand area economies.

Egan’s report also recommends that the Commission and Board of Supervisors consider input from the public and respect their wishes about what kinds of stores they want in the area.


The Commission adopted a recommendation for approval for both draft ordinances, with a few amendments. This means both proposals will go before the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee in September and later to the Board of Supervisors itself.

Kanishka Burns, who manages the Commission’s formula retail project, said the provision to regulate subsidiaries of chains had been removed from Supervisor Mar’s proposal. Instead, Mar’s draft ordinance, if enacted, would result in a six-month study of subsidiaries and how to address them. The study would also include an examination of how best to structure legislature requiring Economic Impact Reports from formula retail stores.

Commissioner Cindy Wu said the Commission liked elements of both proposals, but that there was some disagreement on the number of locations that would define a store as formula retail. Three commissioners supported 11 locations, while four supported allowing 19.

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  1. Sam

    ATMs? What is Mar smoking?

    Re the picture, it depresses me that so many people would show up at a meeting with the express purpose of restricting choice and freedom.

    If I don’t like a store, I don’t shop there. Stopping others from shopping there just strikes me as petty and spiteful.

  2. godzuki

    Glad to see there is some pushback so the Mission doesn’t further become a culture-less shopping center. The ATM issue is irrelevant as most people use cards to shop now.

    • Sam

      Why do you think it is moral and legitimate to stop other people shopping where they want to?

      Is it because you know what is best for us better than we do?

      Or is it like when I decide to evict someone because I know better than you do what kind of people should be in the Mission.

      You’re riding a slippery slope, my friend.

  3. FriscoKid

    The BofA ATM at 16th and Mission is scary

  4. Cara

    Because the neighborhood voiced their opinion and stood up for what they wanted, we now have a beautiful, locally-owned cafe with a cute patio for coffee and sun, and delicious homemade food where a chain store might have stood instead. The Blue Fig is owned and operated by hard-working people who grew up in this neighborhood and who add much-needed community to Valencia Street. I remember that American Apparel was very gracious in their exit – and that some of the people fighting against them did not treat them so well, which I felt sorry to witness. I’d like to see these fights taken on with less name-calling and vilifying. That said, it’s good to be reminded of the impact of people standing together for what they want to see in their neighborhood. Because people showed up, it resulted in something which, in my opinion, is much better for the neighborhood and our local economy. Whatever your opinion, don’t ever let anyone tell you that your voice doesn’t count – a lot of positive things can happen when people band together…

    • Mike K

      I appreciate your comment it makes a lot of sense. Being a born and raised local too ( not the mission) I also like the the new owners are from here. I wish them well and a lot of success. My issue is the fake locals who are against people/ businesses just like them who act like they were born here. I don’t want to hear any Ohlone Indian shit, but I grew up here, went to school here, an I am raising 2 kids here that I hope will stay here.

  5. Cara

    Thanks, Mike. I hear what you’re saying. It’s a complex issue for sure. I hope the San Francisco your two children inherit as adults is as cool and unique as the one we’ve known and loved. It’s up to all of us to make it that way. All the best to you!

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