On Guard: Stop the Target creep into San Francisco 

TargetExpress stores are slated to open on Polk Street and Ocean Avenue. - TARGET.COM
  • Target.com
  • TargetExpress stores are slated to open on Polk Street and Ocean Avenue.
Despite San Francisco’s reputation as a land of the strange, its neighborhoods are like a modern-day “Leave it to Beaver.”

This includes my home of the Richmond. Walking down Geary Boulevard past Nizario’s Pizza, I give a nod to the guy slingin’ slices: Robby Squyres Jr., a local muay thai champ with lightning legs. And the fellas at Cards and Comics Central might not remember my name, but they know my fondness for “Batman Beyond.”

That’s one of the intangible benefits of a city linked by its small businesses: community.

But the San Francisco of the future might look a lot different if big businesses like Target slowly creep into The City.

It started downtown, and people yawned. Then Target edged onto Masonic Avenue, and eyebrows raised but not picket signs. Now a Target is proposed on Ocean Avenue, and another one on Polk Street.

Many in Russian Hill are chafing against the proposed TargetExpress at the former Lombardi Sports location.

“I think a lot of the local merchants would be threatened,” said Frank Cannata, a board member for the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, which opposes the Target. “Target kept telling us it’s a small store. For you it’s a small store! This is nearly 40,000 square feet.”

Target downtown is one thing, as chain stores there thrive. But a Target on Polk Street would land smack in the middle of a foot-traffic-heavy neighborhood with abundant small businesses.

It isn’t just about mom-and-pop love, either. An economic report on formula retail expansion from the City Controller’s Office in 2014 says local businesses spend at least 10 percent more revenue in San Francisco than large chains.

An American Enterprise Institute study, “Shops and the City: Evidence on Local Externalities,” says when a big-box retailer moves in, “not only do competing retailers shrink their workforce, some are forced out of business entirely.”

And these express stores may be smaller than a traditional Target, but their impact grows with each new one.

“The problem with the express stores is any one of them doesn’t seem like a big deal,” Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance said. “But the cumulative effect, adding up the square footage and the dollars in terms of sales they suck up, can become quite significant.” Some feel there is a need for stores like Target, which offer lower prices than most. But we need balance.

Supervisor Julie Christensen, whose district includes the proposed Target on Polk Street, said perhaps nearby Van Ness Avenue would be a better site.

“You’re using the word balance, and Joe that’s one of my favorite words,” she said. “Target has to select a site to be appropriate so it doesn’t hurt our neighborhood serving businesses.”

Masonic Avenue was a good choice for Target because it fits with existing stores there. Supervisor Eric Mar, whose district contains that Target, said small-business owners have not complained about negative impacts.

That’s why putting Target on Van Ness is an idea even Cannata supports. “Polk is the foot traffic, everyone walks on it,” he said. “Van Ness serves people driving.”

Target may work in San Francisco, but it doesn’t work in our neighborhoods. It’s still early, there’s still time. Tell your supervisors to stop the Target Creep.

Take action

Do you support Target? Do you think it’s out of place on Ocean Avenue and Polk Street? Contact your supervisors: Julie.Christensen@sfgov.org for Polk and Norman.Yee@sfgov.org for Ocean. And, as always, remain On Guard.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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