Small Business Awards 2007: Chain Store Alternative Award

Pub date April 24, 2007

Since it opened in 1954, Waldeck’s Office Supplies in downtown San Francisco has been a true neighborhood store. In spite of the growth of now-ubiquitous large chains such as Staples and OfficeMax, this family-run retailer has carved a niche with its host of regular local customers and businesses large and small in the neighborhood.

Of the supply shop started by his father, owner Cliff Waldeck says, "Neighborhood-serving retail businesses are why people live, work, and visit specific communities." For him, seeing regulars come in is the best part. "It’s like a scene out of Cheers."

Waldeck’s also leads its industry in being environmentally conscious. Two years ago it was certified as a green business by the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

As Waldeck, a former member of the Mill Valley City Council and a current member of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, puts it, "I always like to say, ‘In my industry we’ve killed a lot of trees, and I have sap on my hands.’ "

Having done environmental work and advocacy as a public servant, Waldeck decided to make the transition to green practices. To get green certified, he had to demonstrate to inspectors from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Public Health Department that he uses good environmental practices, abiding by criteria including recycling and reusing products, conserving energy and water, and maintaining a healthy office space.

The office supplies retailer also stocks green products such as recycled copy paper, greeting cards made of recycled paper, and energy-efficient items. And you can drop off your fluorescent tubes, toner cartridges, cell phones, and other electronics for free recycling.

Survival is a constant issue for a small business, particularly one downtown, where Waldeck’s competes for retail rental space alongside billion-dollar companies. Waldeck points out, "You might have formula retail legislation that helps preserve places like North Beach and Hayes Valley, but the Financial District doesn’t have that. I have five Starbucks within five blocks." With national chains creating the market rate for retail space, he adds, "it’s extremely difficult to make it just on your foot traffic of people coming in paying cash."

Believing that green practices and the success of a small business can go hand in hand, the retailer has an interesting proposition for San Francisco’s political leaders: anyone bidding on a city contract for goods or services should be required to name seven or so green-certified San Francisco entities they do business with, which would encourage huge companies to work with small, green-certified businesses. "What I’m advocating is that since the city and county of San Francisco is the largest employer and purchaser here, they can lead by example," Waldeck says. "Procurement in SF is basically a cage match now. Whoever wants to sell a product at the lowest price is the one who gets the contract."

With a stockpile of past awards, including the San Francisco Urban Solutions Neighborhood Business Award, San Francisco Small Business Network’s Green Business of the Year, and one from the Environmental Protection Agency Region Nine, Waldeck’s plans to keep up the good work. (Julie Park)


500 Washington, SF

(415) 981-3381