According to the Walgreens "store locator," the drugstore/emergency cat litter shop/place to grab gum and milk has around 50 locations across San Francisco, quite a feat given our city's notorious opposition to chains. So how did this business gain such a toehold in SF, given the protests many formula retail ventures have wrought? According to former SF mayor turned SF Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, it's all his fault — and, indirectly, Gavin Newsom's and the Board of Supervisors'.
Brown claims that the proliferation of Walgreens began when SF's Supes approved then-mayor Newsom's proposal to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies back in 2008. Though Phillip Morris filed a (later dropped) lawsuit against SF, arguing that "the ordinance violated its First Amendment right to free speech," Walgreens was apparently unwilling to sit back and let the tobacco giant do all the work, and "flew out and hired" Brown "to give them advice on how to beat back the ban," he claims.
I told them flat out that given the politics of San Francisco, there was no way to beat it. But I also knew that there was no way that the Board of Supervisors was ever going to mess with all the the mom-and-pop groceries that sell smokes. So I made a suggestion. Start selling food, and redefine yourself as a grocery store.
They put in a grocery section, and lo and behold, the food took off like gangbusters among all the new apartment dwellers in the city.
And that's why, though "we are fast becoming a city of Starbucks, Subways [seriously?], Peet’s and Walgreens," writes Brown, "I had nothing to do with the explosion of coffee and sandwich shops, but I do take blame for the stampede of [sic] Walgreen’s throughout the city."
This certainly isn't the first time Brown has beat the cigarette drum — back in another Chron column from 2012, he claimed that if a proposed $1 increase to the cigarette tax was approved, California would be overrun by cigarette smugglers "as street dealers realize there is more money to be made selling hot cigarettes than there is selling dope." Wonder who he was working for when he made those claims in our paper of record?
Of course, anyone who lived here before 2008 might recall that there sure were an awful lot of Walgreens in the city back then, too, so Brown's claims might be that much hooey. Hooey that's published, as I noted, in our paper of record, but still hooey!
Then again, given how rarely Brown's willing to accept blame for any damn thing, we might just take this one and move on. Here's hoping that this admission, bogus as it might be, leads to some more genuine ones. From what I hear, confession is far better for the soul than a five dollar foot long.