Activists say a pair of Spades could beat culture and small business in the Mission

Pub date August 20, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

[UPDATE: The Board of Appeals last night voted to 3-2 that Jack Spade should be considered a formula retail business, short of the four-vote supermajority that activists needed to sustain their appeal.]

Progressive activists and small business owners in the Mission are trying to draw the line against the creep the of corporate chain stores — with their homegeneity and tendency to drive up commercial rents — and they’re drawing that line at the old Adobe Bookstore where the Jack Spade corporate clothing chain was trying to quietly sneak in.

“I’m strongly opposed because of its potential to destroy the culture of this area,” Michael Katz, owner of Katz Bagels across 16th Street from the site, told the Guardian. “If they start allowing chains to come, it will be one chain store after another.”

Katz has already been experiencing the flipside of these economic boom times, recently forced to close his shop on Mission Street near 2nd in SoMa because of rising rents and competition from both food trucks and corporate-backed competitors. Now, he’s fighting to defend his Mission District turf against deep-pocketed competitors.

“This will change the special personality of the 16th and Valencia corridors,” Katz said. “It’s turning it into a commodity.”

Katz is among the dozens of people planning to show up tomorrow for the San Francisco Board of Appeals’ hearing (Wed/21, 5:00 PM, City Hall Room 416) on the Jack Spade store. The Valencia Corridor Merchants’ Association is organizing the challenge to the legal standing of a building permit issued to Jack Spade by the Planning Department in June.

Last week, that same group of activists experienced a minor setback when the Board of Appeals denied a late filing request. Tomorrow, however, they’ll get the opportunity they were seeking to argue that the store is “formula retail” and needs to submit to a public hearing before being sanctioned by the Zoning Administrator to open a new Mission location.

Mission resident Kyle Smeallie has been working with the VCMA to oppose the mens’ clothier’s advances on 16th street. In the case of Jack Spade, the Planning Department has enforced only the narrowest definition of “formula retail” as a business with 11 or more locations, while failing to defend the broader spirit of the law.

Since Jack Spade is owned by Fifth & Pacific (aka Liz Claiborne), according to Smeallie, it is a corporate chain store. Though it indeed has only 10 locations, Jack Spade “has a complete imbalance of power and resources, which is exactly what the formula retail legislation aimed to remedy in the first place,” said Smeallie.

Fifth and Pacific also makes clear on its website the Jack Spade is an expanding chain: “Under Fifth & Pacific, Jack Spade has begun to spread its wings and is now poised for broader expansion. Although management would not disclose a precise volume breakdown, Fifth & Pacific’s CEO William L. McComb said on an earnings call last year that Jack Spade ‘can be a $100 million men’s business with very high margins.’”

That’s “margins” as in profit margins, meaning that this corporate chain can has an economies of scale that allows it to buy goods for cheap and sell them for whatever people will pay, which is an ever-increasing amount in the rapidly gentrifying Mission.  

Experts have advised the activists that their best approach is to argue that Kate Spade and Jack Spade are essentially the same store, with well over 11 locations nationwide, since corporate parentage is not explicitly prohibited in the formula retail legislation approved by voters in 2006.

“We’re going to make the case that, since it’s named Spade, it has benefitted from the association with Kate Spade,” Smeallie explained. “Legally, we have a case to say a Spade is Spade and they should be considered one and same.”

In the past, this strategy was successful in thwarting an effort by “Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers” to open a neighborhood location by claiming that it was, effectively, just another Brooks Brothers. In that case, however, the full name of the large-scale retailer was present in the subsidiary’s label.