Target gets OK to open at Geary/Masonic

by Jonathan Farrell

The San Francisco Planning Commission voted unanimously on July 28 to approve a Conditional Use Permit for a new Target store, which will occupy the empty retail space that was once a Sears at Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue.
The commission meeting was filled with many people who talked at length about the issue of "formula retail," and whether or not banks belonged in that category.
The City's regulation curtailing the proliferation of chain stores was established in 2004. Yet, the impact the city's ban has had upon the local economy is always in question.
The ban has helped some neighborhoods, like Hayes Valley and the Haight-Ashbury, areas that have been struggling over a long period of time to establish a unique identity.
Supporters of the ban say setting limits on chain stores helps preserve neighborhood character and allows the Planning Commission to consider specific projects on a case-by-case basis.
The question about chain stores on Geary Boulevard primarily involved two cases, one in which Target was allowed to open, and one concerning a proposed Petco store at 17th Avenue that is still in limbo.
At one time, not too long ago, the entire complex at Geary and Masonic, covering almost a full city block, was a landmarked Sears store. After Sears closed, Mervyn's moved in, but it only occupied a portion of the complex. The size and location at a major traffic and bus transit intersection makes it an anchor spot for consumers.
With a major recognizable retailer, supporters of Target say, the complex attracts customers, which helps to encourage consumer spending at Trader Joe's and the Lucky Penny, two businesses located across the street from the Target location.
Since Merwyn's departure due to insolvency and then bankruptcy in 2008, the space has been empty.
"The approval by the Planning Commission is exciting news for Target," said spokesperson Sarah Bakken.
Target, the second largest discount retailer in the nation, has its corporate headquarters in Minneapolis.
Bakken said Target would go through all the required processes and procedures to be in compliance with the city's codes and regulations. She noted support for Target from the community has been positive and that Target anticipates an opening day some time in 2013.
"I would not be opposed at all to see a Target store for the Geary and Masonic location," said Russell Pritchard, who was among the many who gave testimony at the Planning Commis­sion.
As a neighborhood advocate for Hayes Valley, Pritchard is disappointed with the Planning Commission's "ambivalence" toward banks. Pritchard feels banks, like Chase, should be considered "formula retail" and subject to the City's 2004 regulations.
"I am, for the most part, against big box stores," Pritchard said.
While he has never been to a Target store, Pritchard mentioned that he did shop at the Geary and Masonic locale when Mervyn's was there.
"I think that a lot of people would buy at Target the kind of merchandise that would not disrupt the flow of customers at a small retailer," he said.
He applauded the effort by Supervisor Eric Mar to tighten restrictions on stores like Petco.
"I am completely against stores like Petco being anywhere," said Pritchard. "They drive out small pet stores."
B&B Pet Supplies, located on Geary near 12th Avenue, would be impacted by a Petco opening on Geary. Petco currently has two locations in the City, one being on Sloat Boulevard at the Lakeshore Plaza.
David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants and Property Owners Association, is in favor of the Target store. The noticeable absence of a major retailer at the highly-visible Geary and Masonic location implies the neighborhood is dying, Heller said.
"The Planning Commission asked us to continue working with Planning Department staff on the exterior alterations," said attorney Daniel Frattin of Reuben & Janius. 
"We will be back at the Planning Commission on Aug. 8 for a recommendation on the Special Sign District legislation," he said.