San Francisco’s homeless crisis may soon have a new victim – luxury shopping in the City.
The City by the Bay has long been known as home to the world’s best shopping. It was home to now-defunct high-end retailers like I. Magnin, and the Joseph Magnin, Co. started by one of the four Magnin brothers as a rival company.
The landmark City of Paris department store off Union Square was one of the most legendary retailers on the West Coast. Once it closed, portions of the famed rotunda and glass dome were preserved in a new building that today houses Neiman Marcus.
For years, shoppers lined up to shop at the flagship Emporium store on Market Street, which survived the 1906 earthquake, was destroyed by fire in 1908, but fell victim to bankruptcy. Now a Bloomingdale’s stands in its place.
Perhaps the most beloved of all was Gump’s, which sold jewelry and home furnishings and décor. The store had a presence in the city for 157 years, until closing in 2018 due to bankruptcy.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported some good news for fans of Gump’s – the store plans to reopen its doors soon, but there’s a catch.
While Gump’s plans a significant online presence, it’s reopening in San Francisco may be temporary. The reason? San Francisco’s homeless crisis.
Saying “this environment is unhealthy for luxury retail,” John Chachas, whose family ownership group is buying Gump’s, told The Chronicle that, “San Francisco would be a very hard place to choose right now based on the vacancy, the vagrancy, the homelessness, and the grime.”
Anyone who has visited Union Square recently would agree. A few months back, I walked around Union Square on a Sunday afternoon while I had some time to kill before seeing the musical “Hamilton.” Anywhere you turn, tourists, shoppers, and workers are hit foul smells. You must look down at your feet while walking to avoid stepping in feces. Worse, aggressive panhandlers await on every corner.
Gump’s announcement is the latest sign that San Francisco officials are failing to make any dent in addressing the city’s out-of-control homeless crisis, a sentiment echoed recently by President Trump.
Kerry Jackson, co-author of the new PRI brief on San Francisco’s homeless crisis, wrote that, “San Francisco’s homeless crisis affects everyone who lives or works in the city . . . City leaders should look to free-market reforms, private charities, and public-private partnerships if they’re serious about wanting to clean up the streets and help the chronically homeless.”
Jackson and co-author Wayne Winegarden recommend several common-sense ideas to address the concerns of Chachas and other downtown San Francisco retailers. Among their ideas are reallocating some public dollars being spent on street cleaning to fund expanded, efficient immediate shelter programs, better engaging law enforcement to connect homeless with public and private programs that can help transition them to permanent housing, and reforming outdated laws to ignite a much-needed, new city housing boom.
“We’d love nothing more than to be here for another century,” Chachas told The Chronicle. If city officials don’t get their act together soon and make a dent in the city’s homeless crisis, retailers like Gump’s and others may soon be fleeing San Francisco for good.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.