Gentrified: 1, Gentrifiers: 0
“When American Apparel announced plans to open one of their shops on Valencia Street, some merchants and residents were less than thrilled. The fight to keep formula retail out of the shopping corridor came to a head at Thursday night’s (02/05) Planning Commission meeting.” — Andy Wright, SF Weekly Blog
In local Frisco news, American Apparel was recently denied the right to further spread their hipster contagion throughout the shopping corridor of the Mission District. For those merchants and residents who have witnessed the rapid hijacking of their neighborhood, American Apparel crystallized a total takeover and the last step in a long fight against gentrification. While the changing nature of the Mission is old news, this defeat speaks to a growing desire to preserve and actively support independent local businesses now facing extinction. In these difficult economic times, it can feel futile to stand up against corporate forces equipped with the funds necessary to launch an effective (and expensive) campaign. I hope this particular story can offer hope to other merchants looking for viable strategies to protect their space(s) and secure future growth and success. I encourage all my readers to check out the following article in the SF Weekly blog to get an intimate play-by-play of how it all happened! —> “Ok, now that we know the anti-formula- retail faction successfully thwarted American Apparel’s efforts to build a branch on Valencia Street, I figure you’re all dying for a blow-by-blow of the six-hour Planning Commission meeting where the final showdown took place. Well, let’s get on it, shall we?” Read on after the jump!
“The initial crowd started gathering outside room 400 of City Hall around 12:30, an hour before the meeting was scheduled to commence. Early birds included a representative from local human-rights organization Global Exchange, and Ryan Holiday, a PR representative from American Apparel.
Once the doors opened, the crowd quickly swelled past capacity. You have to wonder whether the Planning Commission is usually attended by such a young and well-dressed audience: High leather boots and decorative scarves were the order of the day. The commission was well aware that the large turnout was due to the review of American Apparel’s request to set up shop on the Valencia corridor, which was slated at item No. 12 on the agenda and euphemistically referred to as such for the remainder of the meeting, as in: “Those of you who are here for Item 12 might like to wait in the overflow room.” Many attendees did choose to watch the proceedings on a flatscreen TV in the overflow room.
At 2:15, when Item 12 had yet to be reached, some people showed up with snacks. The elated denizens of the overflow room quickly had their spirits dashed when they were told that, actually, the snacks were not for them and that the room had been booked and would they please leave. I saw some people walking around with plates of snacks later. They looked pretty good.
By the time Item 12 was called, I’m pretty sure we could have put together a rad ‘zine compiling all of the doodles completed by the Item 12’ers and journalists in attendance. (Not that the preceding hours weren’t without their shining moments: When Planning Commission Vice President Christina Olague called into question the legality of Medjool’s rooftop club, you could almost hear thousands of hearts thudding against shiny button-ups.) The item was introduced, and Holiday spoke on behalf of the project.
He informed the audience that American Apparel had received quite a bit of hate mail, some suggesting that rocks would be thrown through their windows, which was met by giggles from the audience. “Also,” he added, “I’m sure Chicken John is a very nice person, but he wrote that we were full of shit.”
Holiday went on to dismiss rumors that the store would be paying upward of $9,000 in rent, saying that it was paying market rate. He also stated that one of the reasons AA had decided to build the store was because so many of its customers were commuting from the Mission to buy at other locations. Okay, point taken.
He then said that one of the reasons AA had chosen the space was that it was accessible by BART. Predictably, this point was laughed at by a following speaker who sniffed, “All of San Francisco is accessible by public transportation.”
The floor was then opened to public comments. Thick handfuls of neon-green comment cards were held aloft and everyone was warned that there were enough to fill three hours. The comment limit was shortened from three minutes to two and implored speakers to simply say “for” or “against.” His plea was not heeded.
Speaker after speaker took the mike to rail against the store Valencia. It was a who’s who of Valencia Street and Mission area business representatives: Eileen Haasi, owner of Ritual Roasters, and Sean Quigley, owner of Paxton Gate, both spoke. Representatives and employees from Artists’ Television Access (whose storefront is adjacent to the one AA had dibs on), Retrofit, City Art, Therapy, Inverted Eye, Needles & Pens, Radio Habana Social Club, City College of San Francisco, Borderlands Books, and others all took turns. (The representative from Borderlands was met with hissing when he suggested that American Apparel was better suited for Mission Street, where formula retail has already crept in.)
A representative from the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) also spoke out against the store. Opponents expressed concern for the corruption of Valencia’s unique character and the potential for higher rent on an already very expensive street.
Only a handful of people spoke on behalf of the store. Several were Bay Area American Apparel emloyees. (A few people who spoke at the meeting said that American Apparel employees were paid to attend and speak on the store’s behalf. Holiday told the Snitch that this was not the case: Store managers were asked to attend the meeting, and since they are salaried employees, they were technically being paid. But no additional funds were offered to store employees in exchange for their support.)
Peter Glickshtern, a 30-year San Francisco resident and five-year Mission resident raising two kids in the neighborhood, voiced support, touting the company’s employee health benefits and dissing Ritual Roasters, saying that he wondered if, when the store opened, Valencia really needed another coffee shop. Larry Griffin, who called himself a native San Franciscan, was also in favor of the store, saying that it would bring much-needed jobs and that he was thinking of his “Latino brothers” who were waiting on the street to be picked up for day labor. “Yeah,” scoffed the guy next me, “Those guys are going to get jobs at American Apparel.”
And then there were the more colorful commenters. A disheveled man took the microphone and gestured wildly at Haasi with a dirty white baseball hat, proclaiming angrily that when he woke up every morning, his house smelled like coffee. (Note to Crazy Hat Guy: I will totally trade houses with you. I’ll bet it smells delicious.) He was asked to stick to the topic at hand, and the dingy bell which signaled a speakers’ time was up was liberally dinged. (Which raises the question: Who wields the awesome power of the Shut-Up Bell?)
Walter Paulson, who sings his opinions during meetings, made an appearance and warbled out a tune about freedom and American Apparel that ended with the line, “Oh God bless American Apparel and their ability to be free.” This basically made my day. (Also: I wish American Apparel was free. That shit is expensive.)
Perhaps the strangest talk of the night came from a guy who called himself Dustin Catalaast (when I asked him if he spelled the end of his name with two As, he said, “Uh, yeah, sure, two A’s for American Apparel.”) He showed up wearing a hat, a ripped jacket, giant sunglasses, and a baseball mitt, which for some reason a security guard asked him to remove.
He told the audience that he had been paid by American Apparel representatives in L.A. to come to the meeting and distribute fliers that read “Legalize Valencia,” and then wrapped up his ludicrous speech by stating, “I’d like to end with an Obama quote. Spread the wealth around.” The AA representative gaped at him. I think it’s safe to say that if anyone has ever paid Big Glasses Baseball Mitt to do anything, it wasn’t American Apparel.
Public comments wrapped at 6:08 p.m. At this point, the commission members took turns voicing their opinions. They basically laid the smack down on American Apparel. Gwyneth Borden called the company out for not doing adequate outreach in the community, at one point saying, “They screwed up.” This was echoed by other members of the commission. Olague and Antonini aknowledged that this was probably the largest turnout they had ever seen for a Planning Commission meeting, and added that they had also received about 400 e-mails regarding the store. The board then voted unanimously that the implementation of the American Apparel Store at 988 Valencia would not proceed.
This was met with a lot of cheering and clapping — and well-dressed folks stampeding from the premises to procure food.” (Click here to see images) — Andy Wright, SF Weekly Blog