“The Mission District.” It’s not just a place. It’s an idea. It’s a style. And for growing number of national and international retailers, it’s a desirable brand worthy of association.
The English clothing store Fred Perry and the hat manufacturer Goorin Brothers are the latest companies interested in opening up stores in the Mission. Neither have immediate plans but both have recently approached the topic with the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association (VCMA)—the organization that successfully warded off Jack Spade from opening up shop on 16th Street a year ago.
John F. Young the country manager of Fred Perry says the company’s plans are very preliminary. While VCMA members have said that Fred Perry has its sights on the space abandoned by Jack Spade, Young says they haven’t picked out a spot, but if they did come to San Francisco it would be in the Mission.
“The neighborhood is raw, and cool, and not very commercial,” said Young of the Mission, who noted that Fred Perry’s other US locations are in SoHo in New York, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and Newberry Street in Boston.
“The Mission, to me, has this laid back style of integrity. I see a lot of history there, a lot of relevance there— these are things that are synonymous with brand that I run,” said Young.
Founded in 1952 by Wimbledon-winning English tennis star Fred Perry, the company named for the athlete is most famous for its short-sleeved polo shirt with laurel wreath insignia. Though similar to Lacoste for its preppy style, the Fred Perry shirts also became a much-worn item of English mods in 1960s, punks in the 1970s, and brit pop stars like the band Oasis in the 1990s. While it only has three locations in the United States, there’s over 100 Fred Perry stores across the world. Young says the company has no plans to add many more locations in the United States.
“We don’t want to be ubiquitous,” said Young. “We’re very independent, we don’t behave like some big multi-brand would. I see similarities there with the independent quality of the Mission.”
What do the independent merchants that Young admires so much have to say about the international brand? They’re not as enthusiastic about it as it is about them. In fact, in a poll in which members of the Valencia merchants voted on whether to support the brand’s potential arrival to the Mission, almost all of its voting members opted to “actively oppose” the store’s potential plans. On Monday, they plan to send Fred Perry a statement outlining their position.
Jefferson McCarley general manager of Mission Bicycle and board member of the merchants group says he’s “prepared to be a very loud messenger” for how the merchants feel about large international companies. Their opposition is both economic—large companies can offer landlords much higher rents—and ideological—well known brands alter the character of a neighbor and threaten homogeneity.
“Brands that want to be considered ‘cool,’ are attracted to this area because of the murals on wall, the interesting street life, even if they’re not making any money here, it adds cachet…A store in the Mission is like 3D promotion for their brands.” said Martin Holden, owner of the boutique Accident & Artifact. “Once you get a critical mass of companies like this, it just becomes an outdoor mall.”
Late last week, Young said if the Valencia merchants don’t want Fred Perry, the company wouldn’t pursue it. Furthermore, he said Fred Perry wouldn’t go anywhere else in San Francisco except the Mission. “That’s the area I love. If I were to rent an apartment, that’s where I would rent one,” said Young.
For Paul Stoll, owner of Body Manipulations on 16th Street, a company like Fred Perry forgoing plans to open up shop would be a disappointment.
“Fred Perry would be awesome,” said Stoll, who says 16th Street, with its homeless encampments and multiple retail vacancies, has been left behind compared to Valencia. “Somebody like Fred Perry will have money and make that they curb look good.”
Goorin Brothers, a San Francisco-based company started in 1895, has more than 20 locations nationally and three in San Francisco. In regards to any plans to move to the Mission, Monica Powers a representative from the company said they couldn’t comment at this time. Similarly, the Valencia merchants group hasn’t decided on how they’ll respond to Goorin if the company’s plans become more definite.
When Jack Spade attempted to open up shop in the Mission, the debate hinged around whether the city was correct in not identifying the merchant as a chain store, or formula retail. In most parts of the city, a formula retail store needs to go through a conditional use hearing to open, but Jack Spade didn’t have to. Even though the store was owned by a larger parent corporation, the retailer’s number of locations was under the legal threshold defined as formula retail, which is currently 11 stores in the US.
In the case of Fred Perry, it wouldn’t qualify as a chain store under the city’s current laws, because the ordinance doesn’t count international locations when determining if a company is formula retail.
However, the Board of Supervisors is set to vote later this month on a change to the Planning Code that would include international locations in defining formula retail, and would bump the number of locations considered to 19.
Considering international locations matters immensely to Valencia merchants because many of their customers are foreign tourists visiting San Francisco. While U.S. companies may think of Fred Perry as a small, niche brand, Europeans may not, according to Maya Skinder a store manager at Betabrand.
“It’s important to stay as unique as possible because we have so many people from around the world coming to this street looking for exactly that,” said Skinder. “We have a very heavy European customer base, I can only imagine all the other retailers here on the street notice a lot of customers here are foreign.”
Holden says that the bulk of Accident & Artifacts press comes from international travel magazines and websites, not local ones. In his store, he’s seen how foreign travels want something “quintessentially American and quintessentially Californian.” On a recent afternoon, a Japanese couple grilled Holden about the origins of the goods in his shop. They would only buy something that had been manufactured locally. They wanted something that authentically came from the Mission.
As interest in the local character of the Mission and Valencia Street spreads across the globe, the rent goes up. This summer, Therapy the 13-year-old furniture shop had to close its furniture showroom after the landlord increased the rent from $5,700 to $10,500. However, a big company isn’t taking over that space, a local brand is.
Mission Workshop, a messenger bag and apparel company, has plans to open where Therapy was on Valencia later this month. In some ways, it’s not a big move for them, they’ve been operating on Rondel Alley directly behind their new space since 2009.
Bart Kyzar owner of Mission Workshop says that Therapy’s owner Wayne Whelan said they were welcome to the space if he didn’t end up staying. Kyzar says the “convenience of expanding our space” seemed like a good opportunity.
How can a local company like Mission Workshop afford these high rents? Well, in some ways they’re an international company not a local one. While Mission Workshop only has one retail location, their bags are sold in bike shops around the world. Before they even opened their small storefront on Rondel, they had a pop-up shop in London, and similar temporary shops soon followed in Brussels and Berlin.
“We have a strong international contingent of customers,” said Kyzar.
From Shimokitazawa to Shoreditch, everybody wants to take home a little bit of the Mission.