San Francisco Fights to Keep Chains Out as It Invites the Wealthy In

The battle over whether to allow a proposed Jack Spade store to open in San Francisco's Mission District points to the incongruities of a city desperate to maintain its retail diversity while it loses its residential diversity.

Jefferson McCarley, with Keep Valencia Local, describes the Mission District street as "a 'wildlife sanctuary' for independent boutiques, bars, and restaurants." So when Jack Spade, the sibling of Kate Spade New York, proposed opening a store along Valencia Street, McCarley and his colleagues organized to oppose it. But the battle highlights the city's "tense tug-of-war over wealth" as rising housing costs, and pro-business policies, have helped reduce its demographic diversity. 

"The rest of the country may have turned into a landscape of Home Depots, Taco Bells, and Ramada Inns, but, since 2004, San Francisco has rejected chain stores through a series of laws and a ballot initiative," explains Lauren Smiley. "Today, it’s the largest city in the country to ban chains in some zones and require special permits in others."

However, she notes, "One selling point of chain stores, in a city that’s losing its middle class, is that they can keep prices down." And for some public officials, the ban on chains isn't without its pitfalls. In a discussion of legislation that would redefine chains, Cindy Wu, the planning commission’s vice-president, said “The move toward this exclusive, boutique neighborhood is one that doesn’t serve all San Franciscans, and I have some concerns there.”



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