Neighbors want pet store to call off dogs 

A year after being rejected by Marina district neighbors, Pet Food Express is facing opposition in Laurel Heights, where it has proposed opening a new store.

Businesses have already gathered more than 2,500 signatures from people who are protesting plans for the new store, saying competition from the growing Bay Area-based company would threaten the boutique pet shops that are already struggling to survive.

Pet Food Express — which offers pet products, washing services, vaccinations and mobile pet adoptions, among other things — wants to open a new location at the former Hollywood Video, located on California Street between Presidio Avenue and Lyon Street, according to the Planning Department.

It’s the second time Pet Food Express has faced opposition while trying to open a store in San Francisco. Last year, the business community successfully prevented Pet Food Express from opening a 7,000-square-foot store on Divisadero and Lombard streets in the Marina.

At that time, neighbors circulated petitions and lobbied policymakers to reject the project, saying a chain store was not suitable for the area.

On Thursday, the Planning Commission is expected to hear the latest proposal for a Pet Food Express in Laurel Heights.

George, a high-end pet store six blocks from the proposed Pet Food Express, has seen a 5 percent dip in sales due to the recession. In an area with more than 20 pet stores in a 2-mile radius, George and other such merchants say Pet Food Express would be better-suited in
underserved neighborhoods, including the Bayview district.

"They have the potential to take all of us down," said Debra Leow, manager and buyer for George.

Amy Bearg’s family owns Bow Wow Meow, located on Polk Street near Broadway. She said her reason for signing the petition opposing Pet Food Express is simple: She doesn’t want to see chain stores in San Francisco.

"I like having competition, but I don’t like the idea of having something that’s impossible to compete with," she said.

Michael Levy started the company in 1986 as a boutique store in San Francisco. The company has grown into a popular Bay Area chain, with 34 stores, making it the eighth-largest pet specialty retailer in the country. There are currently two other Pet Food Express stores in San Francisco, one in Stonestown Mall and the other along Market Street near Duboce Avenue.

"If I owned a small store, I’d feel the same way about someone bigger coming in, but the history is proven that we don’t have the impact to justify the fears," said Mike Murray, director of community relations for Pet Food Express. "We find small, boutique customers to be extremely loyal, and we refer a lot of customers to them when we don’t carry something."

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Erin Sherbert

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