San Francisco to strengthen chain store restrictions 

click to enlarge Proposed modifications to San Francisco’s existing formula-retail regulations include adding mid-Market Street to the coverage area among other changes. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photo
  • Proposed modifications to San Francisco‚Äôs existing formula-retail regulations include adding mid-Market Street to the coverage area among other changes.

San Francisco is expected to strengthen its anti-chain store law by applying the restrictions to international companies, expanding the requirements to the mid-Market Street area and requiring any chain to pay for an economic analysis when seeking approval to open.

When discussions began last year to modify chain store restrictions, a major clash began to brew and two competing proposals emerged, one from the Planning Department and another from a member of the Board of Supervisors.

But Supervisor Eric Mar, who has taken a lead on modifying existing formula-retail regulations, helped broker a compromise measure that the full board will vote on next week. He expects unanimous support.

"There is no shortage of chain stores in San Francisco. There are 1,250," Mar said. "I've been committed to giving our neighborhood residents a strong voice in their economic development of their neighborhood corridors and to leveling the playing field."

San Francisco's first restrictions on chain stores, defined as having 11 or more store locations in the Untied States, was enacted in 2004 with an outright ban for Hayes Valley. North Beach followed suit. And in 2006, voters approved a ballot measure requiring any chain store to have to obtain a special permit to open in neighborhood commercial corridors through the Planning Commission, which is appealable to the board. The process can take six to nine months.

Since then, new concerns have emerged in communities related to formula retail stores finding loopholes in the existing law. One example was when GANT Rugger opened in Hayes Valley last year. Though the company had more than 11 locations, eight were in the U.S. and the rest in Europe, and therefore it did not fall under The City's chain store law.

Under Mar's proposal, the definition of a chain store would change to 11 or more locations worldwide, no longer just in the Untied States. The types of businesses captured by the restrictions would also expand to include check cashing, massage parlors, tobacco sales and fitness gyms.

Additionally, the proposal adds mid-Market to the coverage area. It would also require applicants proposing 20,000 square feet of space or more to hire a consultant to perform an economic analysis of how the business would impact neighboring businesses. The study must include details on employment numbers along with wages and benefits.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said the proposal "will provide an even stronger and better process than we already have."

Some criticism has come from the real estate industry. Matthew Holmes, co-founder of San Francisco-based retail firm Retail West, said the added restrictions are "going to make it difficult to fill vacancies."

"I know everybody is concerned about character of the neighborhood," Holmes said. "I see no character in vacant storefronts."

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