Mary Feeley, who lives at an SRO downtown, walked into the One $ Store at 17th and Mission with a stack of Street Sheets tucked under her arm and waved hello to the store’s owner, Arman Muhammad.
She had come for some soap, but when she found out the store will likely be replaced with an apartment complex, her smile fell. Indeed, on Thursday, the Planning Commission will hold a hearing to discuss the future of the corner, and a six-story development project that hopes to break ground in the next year.
“It’s one of my favorite places,” she said. “People are friendly. You can get what you need, when you need it.”
The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) triggered Thursday’s hearing, writing that the One $ Store is a cultural asset that caters to low-income residents and helps alleviate the pressures of gentrification.
There’s just one problem: the One $ Store doesn’t want to stay — because customers are no longer coming.
“My business in the Mission is no longer profitable,” Muhammad wrote to the Planning Department last month in response to MEDA’s petition.
“I have enjoyed my years in the Mission community, I am choosing to leave.” Muhammed ended his letter with a strong endorsement of Muller’s project. “I feel Tim has proposed a project that will improve the neighborhood.”
That project has been nine years in coming.
In 2009, Timothy Muller, the property owner, floated plans to replace the one-story concrete slab with a six-story complex of high-end apartments and a few below-market units. Muller immediately back-burnered the housing project while Muhammad lived out his lease. Then, in 2015, Muller re-introduced plans for a glittery (relatively) high-rise designed by Stanley Saitowitz, who’s known for making provocative architectural splashes. Renderings showed an imposing facade almost entirely made of glass and steel. The ground floor would remain a commercial space, shrunken by more than half.
City planners nixed Saitowitz’ original design in favor of a more conventional beige building. The current project will include 27 apartments, three of which will be below market rate.
MEDA was happy with that change. “We always like to see less big sheet glass,” says Peter Papadopoulos.
Muhammed has declined to remain at 2100 Mission St., but MEDA still hopes to bring in a business that serves a similar role. Goodwill has expressed interest in moving to the site, which MEDA says could work, though it doesn’t offer the same kinds of goods as a dollar store.
“The Dollar Store is where a lot of people buy their daily essentials,” says Peter Papadopoulos, a land use policy analyst with MEDA. “You can get the kind of things like household needs at a price that helps to stabilize our working class families.”
But evidently not enough of these families are turning to the One $ Store for their needs.
For years, owner Muller has offered Muhammed a reduced rent to help buoy him as his business struggled. At one time, Muhammad afforded the $14,000 a month rent but over the last few years his profits have suffered. The wholesale cost of the store’s goods has gone up 100 percent and he’s gotten less foot traffic since Thrift Town across the street shut down. Muller has lowered rent by a couple grand every so often; now, Muhammad pays just $8,000 a month.
Muhammad, who moved to the the United States from Afghanistan in 2001, owns another dollar store downtown that he says does much better.
“I think it is indicative that the demographics are shifting in the Mission,” says Papadopoulos. “And it’s the businesses like the dollar store are having the most difficulty. That’s why MEDA has been working to disrupt that cycle.”
Since the One $ Store opened in 2001, the median income of Mission households jumped from $51,000 in 2000 to $87,000 in 2016, according to census data. In addition, many consumers have turned from the convenience of a neighborhood store to the even more convenient e-commerce and that trend has hurt retail throughout the city.
Still, the One $ Store in the Mission offers a place for those who haven’t found the internet to be a retail panacea: for the 81-year-old woman who slowly makes her way through the store on her walker, looking for a skillet of a certain size; for the woman counting each quarter to buy a pack of socks; for those who lack a device in their pocket that alerts them to the best deals around.
Dewayne Kemp says he stops by the store every day. Kemp first met Muhammad — who goes by Alex — about six years ago, after he got out of prison and was looking for a job. Muhammad had him working the next day. Now Kemp just comes in to say hi to his old boss or pick up a cream pie or some soap.
“They serve people from all walks of life,” says Kemp. “They don’t make you feel unwelcome.”
Muller and his lawyer have been in negotiation with MEDA to find a suitable alternative to the One $ Store.
The real sticking point is the terms of the lease. MEDA wants Muller to offer a 50-year lease to the thrift store.
“Are you gonna be around here 50 years from now?” asks Muller. “Why subject a piece of property to a very long-term lease when you don’t know the future? It’s not usual to have a have a third party dictating terms. It make it very difficult.”
MEDA’s Papadopoulos says 50 years is their standard ask when negotiating with new projects in the Mission.
“Ground-floor community space for the long term creates a community stabilization force,” says Papadopoulos, adding that MEDA has been negotiating with developers almost every day ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
But if the fate of the One $ Store is any lesson, whatever moves into 2100 Mission St. will need the community as much as the community will need it.
Update, 3:15 p.m., June 14: The future of 2100 Mission St. was not discussed at the Planning Commission. “We are happy to report that we’ve agreed to terms with MEDA. The discretionary review will be withdrawn,” said John Kevlin, a representative of the project told the Planning Commission. Kevlin asked to postpone the item until July 12, when they will have the agreement in writing.