American Apparel battle heads for Planning Commission

Pub date February 4, 2009

Early Saturday morning, Jan. 31, about 40 protesters stood on the sidewalk near the corner of Valencia and 21st streets — the site of a proposed American Apparel store — holding up signs that read, "Your Mission — Not Theirs." An endless stream of honks — even one from a cop car — echoed support for the anti–American Apparel cause. The next day, protesters met at Ritual Roasters for a letter-writing party and on Feb. 2, they rallied and wrote letters at an anti–A.A. event hosted at Amnesia. The movement to block the chain store is gaining momentum in advance of a Feb. 5 Planning Commission hearing.

The overwhelming majority of independent businesses in the neighborhood — including Ritual Roasters, Modern Times Bookstore, Borderlands Books, and Aquarius Records — have taken a stand against the chain, which boasts 200 outlets in 19 countries worldwide. There are three AA stores in San Francisco, including one on nearby Haight Street.

A.A. spokesperson Ryan Holiday says the sentiment is misplaced. "People think we’re a big-box retailer, but that’s not true," he told the Guardian.

The company has been pushing a different image: "We don’t like the mall-ification of America any more than you," reads a sign on the empty storefront. "But that has never been what American Apparel is about."

Many store opponents claim the campaign is not a crusade against American Apparel, a Los Angeles company that has a progressive record on labor and immigration issues. It’s about formula retail, which is already banned in several San Francisco commercial districts.

"I’m wearing American apparel underwear right now," said Kent Howie, a longtime staffer for Artists’ Television Access, which is housed in the storefront next to the proposed clothing outlet. "Our street just doesn’t want chain stores. It’s about survival."

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the district where A.A. would be located, has not taken a public position. But several months back, he met with American Apparel representatives and suggested a number of ways to do outreach in the neighborhood.

"I have seen no such evidence," Dufty told us. "Major retailers often don’t make an active contribution to the neighborhood."

Holiday insists that it’s the community’s decision, although A.A. has signed a multiyear lease for the space. "We don’t need to dictate the conversation and we don’t need to trick the people into thinking they want an American Apparel."

>>View more of our American Apparel controversy coverage here.