Over the Memorial Day weekend, Old Navy announced they will be leaving their Market Street location on July 1st, becoming the latest retail chair store to lave the city’s downtown in recent months.
For several years, large chains and small businesses have been leaving San Francisco, either closing permanently or relocating operations outside the city and state. In the case of small businesses, some have left the area entirely, moving out of state or to other regions in the state. For the last few years, for example, Walgreens has closed more and more stores in the city due to the massive amount of crime within its stores. Higher-end stores have also cited break-ins and crime as major reasons for leaving. And just within the last two months, all Amazon Go stores, Anthropologie, several high-end Union square stores, and the flagship Whole Foods store have all announced that their doors will be closing, along with multiple non-chain stores throughout the city. Earlier this month, both Nordstrom and Saks Off 5th announced the closure of 3 main locations in the city, along with T-Mobile and Williams-Sonoma also announcing closures.
While crime has been cited as the main reason for many going, high rent costs, a lack of customers coming in due to the concurrent office exodus from the city, the homeless crisis keeping many away from parts of the city, and the overall decline of retail have all played a factor in the high number of businesses leaving. However, shifting business strategies and the sale of buildings disrupting tenants have been the core blame for the most recent departures.
According to Gap, the parent company of Old Navy, the official reason is that a new location is needed in San Francisco is needed to better serve customers, despite the Old Navy having been there for over two decades.
“Old Navy is always evaluating its real estate portfolio to ensure a healthy fleet of stores that can provide the best possible experience for our customer,” said the company in a statement. “Since our Market Street store opened in the 1990s, the way we leverage flagship locations has changed.”
“As a result, we have taken the difficult decision to close our Market Street store when the lease expires, and we are already working to identify new locations in downtown San Francisco that will better serve the needs of the business and our customers.”
“Gap Inc. has deep roots in San Francisco and is committed to the city. We recently invested in renovating our Downtown San Francisco hub where our teams come together to develop new consumer experiences and product innovations. As part of that remodel, we opened four new stores at our headquarters where customers can experience the latest fashion and experiences from each of our brands, including new Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta stores. In addition, Banana Republic has announced plans for a new flagship store on Geary Street in Union Square.”
“We want to thank the Old Navy Market Street employees for their dedication as well as our many customers who visited the store over the years.”
A drastically different reason for closing
However, Old Navy employees gave a starkly different reason for the closing. In a CBS interview over the weekend, employees pinpointed the closing due to the issue of rampant shoplifting in the store.
“They’re (shoplifters) there every day,” explained one employee. “When I’m on the floor walking around I would say at least 12, 14 during the day. It’s really bad because it’s downtown San Francisco and it’s really out of control. We were hit 22 times by thieves in the last two days. And in the last year, the problem has worsened.”
“I recognize a lot of them and they’re just super comfortable, sometimes they’ll take two or three mesh bags at a time, and that sometimes is $2,000 worth of stuff. I feel I’m not as safe as I should be. I’ve seen one guy carry a hammer before, so you don’t know what these people’s intentions are when they’re trying to steal, and I feel like sometimes my life could be in jeopardy.”
“I was sad for awhile, because I do love the store, I do love my team. Other than that, I’m kind of glad that they’re closing, because I don’t feel like fearing for my life every single day that I work there. I just hope that it can get back to normal the way that it used to be when people were out shopping, having fun, with their families.”
Richard Wallace, who helped manage a high-end store in the Square until earlier this year, told the Globe Monday, “Stories like that don’t surprise me. Other places, the cops would be there and they would be arrested and charged. Even in San Francisco, they do add up.”
“But with a police shortage and so much happening, stores are just pulling out. The criminals are winning. This is not the city it one was 20-30 years ago. It’s bad here now. Even with all the problems brick and mortar stores are having nowadays, these stores in Union Square could still make a profit if it wasn’t for all this crime. And we are seeing stores get out as a result. It’s a shame. If you want to fix it, get in more cops and bring back harsher penalties.”
More stores are expected to leave after their leases end soon.
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