San Francisco goes to war on chain stores

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The Independent US

With a staggering 62 outlets of Starbucks dotted along its pastel-painted streets, San Francisco is having a hard time living up to its reputation as the counter-cultural American city that hates chain stores.

With a staggering 62 outlets of Starbucks dotted along its pastel-painted streets, San Francisco is having a hard time living up to its reputation as the counter-cultural American city that hates chain stores.

That, perhaps, explains a brand-new city ordinance telling the chains to keep out of the hippest neighbourhoods and throwing all sorts of obstacles to their expansion almost everywhere else. The city's Board of Supervisors - San Francisco's fancy name for the city council - voted 8-3 on Tuesday night to crack down on what it called "formula retail", the sort of homogenous high-street look that has filled city after city in the States with outlets of Starbucks, Gap, McDonald's, Men's Warehouse and other over-familiar names.

Matt Gonzalez, the energetic young president of the Board of Supervisors who narrowly lost his run for mayor on the Green Party ticket last year, pushed through the new legislation, saying it was a victory for neighbourhood preservation.

Hayes Valley, a once-blighted corner of the city down a hill from the one-time hippie mecca Haight-Ashbury - now a booming area of boutique shops, restaurants and nightclubs - was singled out for special protection. So, too, was Cole Valley, its up-and-coming neighbour.

In some of the better-trodden parts of San Francisco, from North Beach to the Mission, prospective chain stores will now have to provide extra paperwork to establish why their presence is both needed and requested by the locals. A chain is defined as any business with 12 or more outlets. McDonald's currently has 21 in San Francisco alone.

Some city dwellers yesterday decried the ordinance as too little too late. The dot-com boom of the late 1990s saw a huge influx of chain stores, leading to several acts of vandalism and protest in response. Last summer, a group of protesters smeared seven Starbucks outlets with glue and hung fake "closed" signs on them.

Business leaders, meanwhile, worry that the new ordinance will deter investment in San Francisco at a time when it is struggling to recover from the internet crash. "Are we sending a message that you shouldn't be too successful in San Francisco," Patricia Breslin of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association recently asked the city's planning commission. Many others have noted that Gap, now a poster child for both the benefits and the drawbacks of globalisation, started life as a single storefront in San Francisco.

Two neighbourhoods remain unaffected by the new rules: the downtown area around Union Square, which is already filled to bursting with well-known retail names, and Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist trap on the north end of town that most resident San Franciscans avoid if they can help it.

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