Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Like the song that propelled Avril Lavigne into our lives more than (ugh!) a decade ago, San Francisco's formula retail policy is complicated. The policy protects certain neighborhoods from being overrun with chain stores, but it can vary block to block based on the restrictions that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has imposed on a particular commercial zone.
Hayes Valley has long been the city's most protected zone: Formula retail was entirely banned in SF's most stylish neighborhood in 2004. While Supervisor London Breed wants more restrictions on Hayes Valley, it doesn't look like those changes will be happening any time soon. Last week, the Board put the brakes on Breed's legislation to impose even tighter regulations on the H.V. after the San Francisco Planning Commission expressed concerns that it does not have the resources to comply with the proposed regulations.
The formula retail rules currently apply to stores that have 11 or more U.S. locations and a recognizable "look," (like standardized merchandise, signage, decor, color scheme, uniforms, or trademarks). If a chain store wants to set up shop in a district where formula retail is restricted, it has to complete extra paperwork with the Planning Commission. Breed's proposal would have altered the current rules to ban a company with more than 11 outlets worldwide —or whose parent company has 11 or more stores— from opening in Hayes Valley. (Breed's aide referenced the Gant Rugger store on Hayes when asking the Board to close the subsidiary loophole.)
According to John Rahaim, the city's planning director, Breed's proposal had multiple problems. First, Rahaim told the San Francisco Chronicle that any "definitional changes" to the formula retail policy should be applied citywide. Additionally, Rahaim noted that the Commission "does not have the expertise to verify the ownership structure of public companies, and it is nearly impossible to determine the ownership structure of privately owned companies."
Rahaim's "we-can't-enforce-this-law" argument seems like a winner, but it may not be enough to ultimately stop the subsidiary ban: Supervisor Eric Mar is proposing legislation that would implement the Breed-championed changes across all of the city's formula retail-regulated zones.
·Planning Commission Punts on Expanded Formula Retail Ban [Hayes Wire]
·Five Things to Know About SF's Formula Retail Policy [Racked]