We saw this coming last summer as soon as news broke that Blue Bottle Coffee had set its sights on a corner spot in the Lower Haight that was for two decades the home of a well loved neighborhood coffee shop, and now it has come to pass. Following some loud opposition in the neighborhood, the Planning Commission has voted to deny a conditional use permit to Blue Bottle moving into 201 Steiner Street on the basis of the neighborhood's ban on formula retail defined as any retail chain with more than 11 locations. As SF Weekly reports, the vote was 4-2 in favor of the opposition, which was led by the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association and a group formed by former District 5 supervisor candidate Dean Preston called Neighbors United.
Many may still consider Blue Bottle to be a small, home-grown, local business, which at one time not that long ago it was. But in recent years, the company has expanded widely, opening several dozen locations that now include outposts in LA, New York, and Tokyo a total of 34 in all. They still maintain their humble kiosk on Linden Street in Hayes Valley, their first SF outpost, but neighbors and local merchants in the Lower Haight, including nearby, longstanding cafes like The Grind and Cafe du Soleil, saw the move by Blue Bottle as a threat. Whether or not people still see Blue Bottle as a local business was clearly up for debate and the prevailing message, which was obviously enough to convince four of the Planning commissioners, was that this exception to the formula retail ban shouldn't be made lest it encourage more landlords to seek exceptions.
Hoodline reports that one neighbor who spoke at the Planning Commission hearing said, "In terms of the many projects and chain stores we've seen in nearby neighborhoods, this should be rejected [to send] a message [that] the property owner should rent to a local."
Reportedly, the number of people who spoke at the meeting against the Blue Bottle proposal far outnumbered those who showed up to support Blue Bottle.
For 21 years, this location at Steiner and Waller Streets was home to Bean There, a locally born cafe that was forced to close in early 2016 following an all-too-familiar-sounding landlord dispute. The closing was initially framed as temporary, apparently, because of a required earthquake retrofit, but from there the landlord Danny Scher and the cafe owner Mike Fakhoury disagree on what went down, with Fakhoury insisting that Scher was simply pushing him out in order to get a higher-paying tenant. As of last summer, that tenant emerged as Blue Bottle, and after a number of months and some quiet campaigning on both sides, the permit application went before the Planning Commission, complete with renderings for the new cafe by Blue Bottle. Community outreach efforts by Blue Bottle apparently failed to generate enough support to outnumber those opposed.
Neighbors United's Jen Snyder, who formerly worked on Preston's D5 campaign, characterized the group's work as "fighting for the soul of San Francisco," telling SF Weekly, "When we turn out in large numbers to make our voices heard, our community wins." And neighborhood resident Hal Fischer, who helped gather signatures and drum up opposition to Blue Bottle, tells the paper, "This is a huge victory for preserving the character of our neighborhood."