The current owner of longtime Union Square retail emporium Gump's took out a full-page ad in Sunday’s Chronicle, an open letter to Governor Newsom, Mayor Breed, and the SF Board of Supervisors about the evils of remote work and the conditions of SF streets.
The bougie Union Square department store Gump’s, which is not to be confused with the entirely unrelated restaurant chain Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., has been in San Francisco for more than 160 years. But it’s had a few different incarnations. It’s been at multiple locations on Post and Geary Streets over those years, and ownership has changed hands several times since the heirs of founder Solomon Gump sold off the company in 1975.
The company declared bankruptcy in 2018 and the last big SF store closed, but the New York investment bankers Methuselah Advisors bought it at a fire-sale price of $650,000. They reopened a much smaller, two-room version of the store in December 2019, which had the unfortunate timing of being four months before the pandemic hit, closing many retail stores.
Current Gump’s owner John Chachas may still have a chip on his shoulder over those temporary closures, and the persistence of remote work keeping downtown less populated than normal. And KPIX reports he’s inserted himself into the news with a full-page ad in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, billed as “An Open Letter to Governor Newsom, Mayor Breed, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” It contains the usual and entirely fair critiques on the prevalence of homelessness in the city, but clearly the man also has an ax to grind that companies aren’t forcing workers back to the office aggressively enough — and he uses a well-tested tactic of threatening to leave the city.
It is about damn time.— Zach Coelius (@zachcoelius) August 13, 2023
The people and institutions of SF are finally speaking out.
The culture of fear of being canceled by ideologues kept them quite for too long. pic.twitter.com/n0U3PxER6n
"Gump's has been a San Francisco icon for more than 165 years," Chachas wrote in the letter. "Today, as we prepare for our 166th holiday season at 250 Post Street, we fear this may be our last because of the profound erosion of this city's conditions."
“The ramifications of COVID policies advising people to abandon their offices are only beginning to be understood,” he continued. “Equally devastating have been a litany of destructive San Francisco strategies, including allowing the homeless to occupy our sidewalks, to openly distribute and use illegal drugs, to harass the public and to defile the city's streets.”
This is of course catnip for conservative media, where Chachas is a frequent fixture, and he probably has a political angle here. Chachas, whose LinkedIn shows he lives in the wealthy town of Park City, Utah, ran as a Republican candidate against Harry Reid in a 2010 Nevada Senate race. (He came in fourth in the Republican primary, with less than 4% of the vote.) He’s currently Chairman of the Advisory Board for the MAGA political committee Turning Point USA, co-founded by right-wing misinformation huckster Charlie Kirk.
And Chachas is clearly still pissed about remote work, saying in a Monday interview with the SF Standard that the city should be giving generous tax breaks to companies that mandate full-time, in-person work.
"I mean, there'll be some geniuses at Salesforce or Meta or someplace who will think that it's just a great idea for people to continue to work at home in their pajamas," Chachas told the Standard. "But a giant number of employers will look at that tax cut and say, 'You bet I want it. That's it. That's great! That gives me a motive to get people back to their offices.' But you have to have political figures who first acknowledge the problem."
In an interview with KPIX, he claims that customers tell him, “‘We really like your business, we love the things that you sell and we’ll buy something online. But we don't want to set foot in your city.’ That’s just an astonishing statement.”
The ting is, Chachas has been singing this exact same song since before Gump’s even reopened in 2019, so he knew what he was getting into. In a 2019 Chronicle interview, he said "San Francisco would be a very hard place to choose right now based on the vacancy, the vagrancy, the homelessness and the grime.” And yet, he still chose San Francisco.
And it’s not his first time threatening to close Gump’s. “I have a couple weeks left of tolerance of this, then we won't have any choice but to close the business," he told KGO in June 2020, back when curbside retail was the only lifeline for storefronts and about when Trump and conservative media were ramping up their attacks on public-health policies in general. "Gump's survived the great earthquake, the fire, the Great Depression. It's survived so many things. It seems at this moment it can't survive bad policy and that would be tragic."
Image via Yelp