1699 Market Street

With plans for razing the iconic Flax Art & Design store at 1699 Market Street to make room for a nine-story building with 162 units of housing, 97 parking spaces and 4,000 square feet of commercial space pushing forward, Flax will be moving its signature signage and flagship store to Oakland.

According to the Chronicle, the City of Oakland is providing Flax with a $99,000 grant towards interior improvements on 14,500 square feet of space at 1501 Martin Luther King Way, a former auto repair shop and indoor soccer hall, and the new store will open in February.

And while Flax had been looking for new space in San Francisco, and entered into negotiations on spaces both South of Market and in Bayview, “either they were too expensive, lacked parking or were not accessible by public transportation.”

43 thoughts on “Market Street Institution Moving to Oakland”
  1. This makes sense. The artists have fled SF for Oakland so no surprise that their suppliers will make a similar leap.

    1. Indeed. FLAX’s departure is a major disturbance in the Force. That angled corner onto Valencia commands and influences a great deal of feng shui. FLAXen influence radiated 100s of feet in all sightline directions, the replacement condoboxes will too, and not in a good way.

  2. Relocate to the Excelsior, we have lots of empty store-front areas. Art Supply Store would be VERY welcomed in the community.

    1. Unless Flax is going into the gambling shack business, don’t expect them to move to the Excelsior.

    1. Oakland has had a relatively small scale program for retail and façade improvements for years (dates from Redevelopment days, and has been extended). Pretty good bang for the buck, I’d say.

    2. Agreed, Oakland also paid the owner $30k to improve the building they just bought. What gets me is that according to Flax the grants weren’t the reason they moved… it was that this building was the only one in all of Oakland and SF that met their needs.

  3. Great news for Oakland. Interesting location they chose. Just a few blocks outside of downtown…it’s a quick walk from 12th Street station. Also there’s plenty of parking nearby, and has great freeway access. I wish them well. (I also hope they decide to look for another location in SF, even if it’s not their flagship).

    [Editor’s Note: Flax opened a 5,000-square-foot annex at Fort Mason in November.]

    1. I noticed the new Flax location when I saw the new corny Ft. Mason retail billboard sign that has been placed on Marina Blvd. How did that get through Planning?

  4. The Chronicle article says that two of the City’s supervisors tried to help Flax stay in SF.

    Would it have been possible for the City to have required the developer of this property to include a retail space of the same size as the current Flax as the ground floor of the new building?

    If the Legacy initiative had been passed sooner and Flax had been designated as a legacy business, would that have stopped this development or forced inclusion of Flax in the new building?

      1. You must be talking about non-San Franciscans, then. On the one hand, many work in an industry designed to destroy traditional commerce (and neighborhoods). On the other hand, they whine about boring neighborhoods with no shopping.

  5. Flax “entered into negotiations on spaces in Bayview”. What’s the reason Bayview site did not work out? Is it too expensive, lacked parking or was not accessible by public transportation?

      1. Well, I’d say getting Duc Loi in there is a lot more important, considering that Bayview is a food desert. Food before colored pencils.

        1. Agreed, definitely think Duc Loi is a much better use of that space, and am excited to see it open soon!

        2. Is Oakland also a food desert? Maybe Oakland should have more groceries as well.

          Agree that Duc Loi is a better use than Flax. Flax can open a smaller store in Bayview as well, but they do not need to be at the Fresh & Easy location.

    1. Yes. Developers put up these cookie cutter boxes and small businesses get driven out. Not able to afford the ground floor commercial space in the new building. Ironically that space often remains empty for a long while. I am thinking of the area around AT&T Park.

      The character of SF is rapidly changing. This store was iconic in its way. A shame it is leaving SF.

  6. Oakland opinion here: I find this more genuinely encouraging for us than Uber’s impending occupation.

    Flax is my destination store on that stretch of Market, and I look forward to another daytime reason to go to my own downtown (there aren’t that many now). I’d much prefer that Oakland spend hundreds of thousands on encouraging viable, real businesses to set up shop in existing neighborhoods here, instead of millions on Coliseum City pipe dreams.

    As for transit I expect 12th St BART is a faster trip for many of Flax’s SF customers than Bayview or Fort Mason would be.

  7. Sad to lose Flax, smart move by Oakland. Used to walk to Flax frequently but won’t make the trip to Oakland for it. Echoing what Dave says, that upscale new developments with ground floor retail charge high rents and rarely attract anything more than some bland corporate business, if anything at all.

    1. The new retail spaces with their stone-clad, reflective glass-front, wide footprints are really good for cookie-cutter gym chains and H&R Blocks (for half the year). They’re sterile, empty, bland, and boring – good for killing foot traffic, and great for increasing crime.

      Anyone involved in bringing these spaces to market ought to be publicly shamed.

  8. I have worked as an Architect in San Francisco since I obtained my license in 1989, and before that doing drafting and other chores in offices since 1980. What is missed in today’s conversation is how incredibly important Flax was to the practice of Architecture prior to CAD becoming the standard.

    If you were a sole practitioner or worked in small office you generally provided all of your architectural tools, pens, and pencils. A pencil lead or pencil might not last one day, so likely you made one or two trips to Flax every month. There were other stores, particularly Arch, but Flax on Market was the mother ship. A good part of the store was given over to these architect’s supplies. I recall entire aisles that were just for pencils, and glass display cases full of look but don’t touch exquisite drafting kits and Rapidograph pen sets. Those eventually areas were turned over to other products like gifts and album books that probably never achieved the equivalent sales per SF of when 10,000 architects were hand drawing drawings everyday in San Francisco with Flax products.

    1. Same remembrances too. Flax was the go to store for my design and art supplies. I still use them today for exceptional watercolor papers, brushes and pigments. ARCH was amazing during its’ time; amazing store for architects.

      The new Flax store at Fort Mason is excellent and still well stocked with everything I need.

  9. Apparently many of these commenters have not yet been to Flax at Fort Mason. Its 5,000 square feet, which is substantial, and stocked to the gills. Smaller than the Market Street location, but I suspect will meet most needs.

    1. Many people simply dislike changes. Many people may never go to Flax in their lifetime, but they still complain the store is moving out of the city. Sometimes, we can acknowledge and validate people’s feelings and continue with everything naturally. These changes come on their own and 10 years later, you may find that’s a good change.

  10. And they also have a store in San Mateo. So, true, the store on Market street is closing but they are still in The City.

  11. Here’s the culprit, from an earlier iteration of the article “Flax said San Francisco’s stricter zoning requirements also played a role in the decision to leave. Several of the sites he was drawn to in San Francisco had been used for automotive purposes. Converting them to retail would have required a time-consuming “change of use” planning process, which could have dragged on for several months.”

    The auto parts store that O’Reilly’s used to be in, I believe, on Mission and CC would have been very fine. In the current story they say they exlplored that. I blame SF’s broken Planning/Building departments for Flax leaving SF.

    And, not to be insensitive, but going to MLK just outside downtown Oakland is not without its own gentrifying aspects. What happens in 20 -30 years if that area gets too hot, and somebody wants to build condos?

  12. I’m a little tired of high rents and gentrification being jumped on as the only reason for everything from El Nino to jock itch. Is there no business out there who will admit that they couldn’t compete in San Francisco and couldn’t change with the times?

    San Francisco and the marketplace are changing, but maybe Flax didn’t. Flax faced competition from the big Blick art supply store at 979 Market and the online art supply dealers.

    I admit to being unfamiliar with the way commercial real estate works, but there seem to be some a good number of vacant stores around SF that could have held Flax.

    I wonder about the vacant grocery store space at 1336 Post (between Franklin and Gough). What’s wrong that the owner (Kroger) can’t do anything with that place? 34,200 Square feet, an upstairs parking lot, near the hospital being built on Van Ness, next door to a Walgreens.

    What’s Krogers asking for that property? Are they holding on to it for some tax purposes? Is there something seismically wrong with the building? It seems to fulfill the cliched real estate requirement, location x 3. Out of ignorance, I wonder if the realtor is not pushing the property. I’d love to have answers.

    I see properties that have been vacant for a long time. Without any expertise, I must ask, did Flax really look or did they just want the publicity about being abused by the commercial retail market in San Francisco?

    I will miss Flax. I shopped there, but could there be some other reasons that Flax couldn’t find a suitable storefront in San Francisco? I hope that the move to Oakland works for them.

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