As we first reported, while San Francisco’s Planning Department backs the proposal to convert the Pacific Sales building at 975 Bryant into a Orchard Supply Hardware store, noting that the project “is desirable for, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood,” would “[improve] the pedestrian experience along Bryant Street” and “meets all applicable requirements of the Planning Code,” following public testimony, San Francisco’s Planning Commission adopted a motion of Intent to Disapprove the project.

Who are the NIMBYs with which the Planning Commission is siding and for whom they intend to block the compatible project? A plugged-in reader reports:

“The majority of comments were from various business owners (Cole Hardware, Builder Supply, Center Hardware, etc.) who expressed their usual concerns about how formula retail will put them out of business and change the face of San Francisco forever.

The owner of Cole Hardware claimed his business went down 25% after Lowes opened on Bayshore — (in the middle of the recession). The owner of Center claims his Saturday business is still down 20%. Of course there’s no way to check their numbers and Center has so little weekend business they don’t even open on Sunday.

The best comment from a commissioner: “We’re trying to save ourselves from ourselves” referring to people who say they want to support locally owned businesses but drive to Home Depot anyway.”

Should it be the role of San Francisco’s Planning Commission to decide and dictate which businesses in San Francisco deserve protection from their competition and their customers as well?

13 thoughts on “Should Our Planning Commission Dictate Which Businesses Survive?”
  1. Two observations:
    1. To the extent “we” keep successful retailers out of SF, “we” will pay the higher costs charged by their less efficient local competitors. “We” also pay the cost of driving to Colma to get items not stocked by local stores.
    2. As a frequent customer, I’d rather shop at Cole Hardware because they have better service and are closer. But…I’d rather not look for parking, pay for parking, and every so often pay the parking ticket (these are hidden costs the City extracts from Cole’s customers). If I drive another ten minutes, free parking, slightly lower sales tax, and a plastic bag to carry my purchases.
    3. Don’t you wish the PC would protect your business from competition, and do so on moral grounds?

  2. The 5 on the commission are siding with the existing hardware stores owners downtown and their profit margins.
    I thought Lowes would bring prices down at Discount or Cole’s. Have you been to a Cole’s hardware store to check prices? Try the one on 4th….man…some would call it price gouging if it weren’t legal.
    Choice and competition should rein the day. But not in SF. And it’s a bloody shame because the SoMa has a large middle class and poor population not being served and who’s is not being represented in the dog fight.
    Orchard Supply Hardware store fits into this location. It meets all the code requirements and it’s walkable for a lot of the folks living in the SoMa. I think that’s unspoken big issue for these other business owners.. it’s the location, location, location.
    These planning commissioners are doing a disservice to the folks living in the SoMa. They fail to see the big picture. The commission needs to take a step back and look at how they are impacting those folks living in the SoMa.
    Our neighborhoods are supposed be walkable, have neighborhood serving retail. Killing this proposal fly’s in the face of good urban planning and is just plain pandering to the pocket books of a few well connected store owners. Pitiful….plain pitiful.

  3. I’d rather walk to my local small hardware store than have to drive to OSH (or Colma). To me, Planning is protecting this option and making sure everyone isn’t forced to drive to Bayshore, which isn’t really a “neighborhood” street in the usual SF sense. As to whether Cole’s fears are legitimate, I don’t have an opinion, but if they are, I agree with Planning’s decision.

  4. There is another hardware store near 7th & Folsom. It doesn’t have a full array of goods OSH would carry, but it serves my purposes.
    That said, I want the denied OSH location too.

  5. @James, OSH is not competing with the local walkable hardware store, it would be competing with the larger destination hardware stores that expect customers to drive to them.

  6. Comrades our great City Planners are only working for what is best for you. Don’t you agree? or perhaps you need a few months in the “re-education center” Perhaps then you will see things more clearly.

  7. I am sure Lowes has hit Cole pretty hard within a mile or so radius. (And probably Discount Builder as well.) Cole has its hands pretty deep in City pockets too. Didn’t they plead guilty to bribing city bureaucrats to send business their way a couple of years ago? I don’t think my implication here is entirely outlandish…

  8. Wow, good memory Jack. Further evidence of Crony Capitalism (aka, “Local” business) in action. When businesses find it more productive to work with/for government than serve customers, the customers lose. Fortunately Colma isn’t too far away and provides some incentive for Cole to stay somewhat competitive. Here’s the story Jack is recalling:

  9. it’s a tough one. on the one hand, prices would fall yielding economic gain for all of SF. on the other, the very significant profits will be taken out of the SF community, which is currently not the case. so i think it’s a very real question for economic planners.
    but not really for city planners.

  10. Whenever Karp (Cole) and Cornell (Brownies) show up at the Commission, the lilly-livered lefty commissioners roll over and agree to whatever they demand. When they say “help me, I need protection from competitor XYZ because over 20% of my profits come from a line of paint or accessories they stock” they get the protection they ask for – that’s illegal in most states and it’s certainly morally indefensible on the part of the City. When 90% of the ACE products they sell (why isn’t “ACE” a formula retail? Heck, Cornell and his staff even wear jackets labelled “ACE Hardware”) are foreign-made crap and yet they cry about a dollar spent in our stores staying in the local economy: they are disingenuous, self-serving hypocrites, both of them. The 5 commissioners too. I go out of my way to spend my construction and maintenance dollars elsewhere and I suggest you all do the same.

  11. Cole Harware is hardware store chain, not an italian coffee shop threatened by a Starbucks on Colombus.
    Their wares come from the same place. If the product is the same, let them fight fair and square on price and quality of service.
    Small stores do not always fulfill the needs of locals at the price they can afford. All of my street’s recycling is clogged with Amazon packaging… People will find a way to make do with a high cost of living.

  12. How is this legal? When did the planning commission become the body that decides what retail is good or not. Their job should be to adhere strictly to the planning code and make decisions based on city planners input. Based off this information and public input reasonable changes can be recommended and accepted. It is a far different thing to have planners make decisions that affect the many residents of sf based on the protectionism desires and glad handing of so called ” small businesses”. [The] best “small” businesses grow too large businesses for a reason.
    Protecting specific retail uses and not others is not only impossible it is asinine and n incredibly slippery slope. Why not protect the local locksmith from hardware store. Why not tv repairman from a larger electronic store. We are losing way more than we re gaining with these [progressives] like Marr, et all who have absolutely no understanding of how businesses work. Show up and speak out to these [people] who stop reasonable progress desired by many at the behest of a small minority desiring protected interest in their businesses. I have mine so you can’t have yours. That’s the opposite of what made this country great and the real truth behind this so called protecting of small business’s.

  13. Agreed with the post above. The Planning Dept should simply enforce the Planning Code. If a business meets all the criteria for a specifically zoned parcel, it should be allowed. If residents complain about it, the project can be massaged in certain directions such as hight & bulk, but otherwise what are Planning regulations for?
    As an architect it’s incredibly difficult to tell my clients that they may not be able to do what they want even though they meet the Planning code in every single part of their proposed project.
    The key here is to have the Planning Code reflect the community.
    Also when does a company like Cole Hardware become “Formula Retail”? Just having done a project in a nearby jurisdiction, they loosely define formula retail as any business with more than 7 locations where the interiors of the shops are standardized and/or employees have a uniform. So if you are successful enough to grow your business to more than 7 locations you suddenly need to go elsewhere to continue even if the market supports it – weird.

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