April 21 - A coalition of small businesses and residents has launched a campaign to stop a Los Angeles-based pet food and grooming chain store from opening in Noe Valley. The coalition says that Healthy Spot, which operates 13 stores in upscale Southern California communities, will force local small businesses that have served the Noe Valley community for decades to close. In addition, the coalition argues that the chain does not meet the criteria set by the San Francisco Planning Commission in its rules regulating chain stores attempting to move into city neighborhoods.
"We are trying to preserve the character of our neighborhood and keep businesses local," said Sage Cotton, owner of VIP Scrub Club dog grooming salon. "Noe Valley and adjacent neighborhoods are not the right place for a formula retail chain. There is no local demand for a corporate pet business."
Healthy Spot is a private investor-funded venture with a rapid growth trajectory. It opened 8 of its 13 stores in the past two years and has a track record locating near established businesses that offer the same products and services. The experience of other locations where Healthy Spot opened a store is that they used predatory practices. The company is known for entering neighborhoods by saturating the market with multiple coupons for prolonged discounts on its products and services that cannot be matched and sustained by smaller pet-related businesses.
"Sometimes it's necessary to fight to keep out chain stores and formula retailers who seek to encroach on our neighborhoods because they have tremendous business advantages that cause irreparable harm to small businesses," said Ellen French, owner of The Animal Company. "We've been building our customer bases and supporting our neighbors for many years."
The proposed location for the Healthy Spot chain store at 4049 24th Street is a half block from The Animal Company, a family run full-service pet store which has been serving Noe Valley for 43 years, just two blocks from VIP Grooming, which has been in business for 24 years, and near Noe Valley Pet Company, which opened 19 years ago. Altogether, there are 10 independent, small pet-related businesses and 10 dog grooming services within 1.5 miles of Noe Valley; the stores already compete in a crowded market.
The coalition's campaign features a website called "My Local Pet Shop" that showcases nearby merchants in a call to mobilize residents to shop local and oppose the chain from opening in Noe Valley. It offers a compelling rationale that local businesses have a stake in the neighborhoods in which they live, work and play. Tools on the site guide people to sign a petition - it's garnered more than 1,200 signatures - and send letters asking the Planning Commission to deny a conditional use permit for Healthy Spot. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on June 21.
San Francisco restricts formula retail businesses unless they meet certain criteria, including fulfilling a need and desire in the neighborhood. The Planning Commission twice denied a conditional use permit - in 2009 and 2013 - to Pet Food Express, a formula business chain that tried to move into the Marina District, where three independent, small pet stores existed. The coalition hopes the same will happen in Noe Valley, where there are many more local small businesses at risk than was the case in the Marina.
"There is a place for chain stores in San Francisco, but this location in Noe Valley is not it," said community organizer Roisin Isner, who successfully fought against proposed chain locations for American Apparel, Jack Spade, and Aesop perfume in the Mission, and in favor of Grocery Outlet on Bayshore Blvd. "Our formula retail laws are working, and Healthy Spot is a clear cut example of the kind of formula retail company San Franciscans voted to restrict. "
A 2013 study found that formula businesses occupy 24 percent of the commercial space in the parts of the city covered by the retail formula policy and nearly twice that - 53 percent in areas not covered. As a result of the Planning Commission's voter approved decade-old policy, San Francisco has more independent businesses and fewer chains per capita than other big cities.
Noe Valley has one of the lowest retail vacancy rates in San Francisco neighborhood commercial districts, according to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
The "My Local Pet Shop" coalition comprises pet-related small businesses and other merchants in Noe Valley and nearby neighborhoods, including: The Animal Company, VIP Grooming, Noe Valley Pet Company, VIP Scrub Club, Jeffrey's Natural Pet Foods, Bernal Beast, Mission Critter, Mudpuppy's, Best in Show, and The Animal House, among others.