Home Depot forfeit hurts The City

Home Depot, the international warehouse-store hardware chain, tried since 2001 to open its first San Francisco outlet on the Bayshore corridor where numerous smaller home-improvement stores are concentrated.

But after seven years of submitting demanded plan revisions and fighting off opposition appeals, Home Depot is walking away. Executives of the 2,225-store chain blamed their surrender primarily on falling nationwide sales caused by the poor economy. Expansion plans are on hold because Home Depot sales dropped nearly 7 percent in 2007 and are expected to fall another 5 percent this year. However, the 30-year-old company also cited San Francisco’s slow permit process as a contributing factor — and said it would not try again.

Looking back at the daunting obstacle course that high-recognition companies such as Home Depot must traverse before earning the privilege of opening up in San Francisco, it is easy to see how businesses would hesitate to try expanding into The City. Home Depot already has three bustling warehouse stores just across the county line in Colma and Westlake, grossing $40 million annually. San Franciscans can drive there, burning more gasoline and giving off extra global-warming pollution.

It was 2001 when Home Depot first proposed opening on the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Cortland Avenue, at the border of the Bayview and Bernal Heights neighborhoods. Not until 2005 did the Board of Supervisors narrowly approve plans for a reduced 107,000-square-foot store on the long-vacant former site of Goodman’s Lumber. And the last appeal against the plan was not overturned until this year.

One obvious conclusion would be that if the company gained city approvals closer to 2001, its store would have been open for several years by now and probably be well-established with a surrounding customer base. Instead, The City lost out on what Home Depot management estimated would be about $500,000 a year in sales tax revenues and more than 200 new jobs — some of which would be directed toward at-risk Bayview youths.

Some nearby store owners feared the warehouse chain would drive them out of business, while others believed Home Depot’s extra traffic would keep their stores alive.

The Board of Supervisors was also divided. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, representing Bernal Heights, battled the plan on grounds of excess traffic and unfairness to local merchants. Bayview Supervisor Sophie Maxwell was deeply disappointed with the loss of potential jobs and shopping convenience for her constituents.

Ammiano actually said Home Depot’s departure opens a “great opportunity” for “everyone to come to the table” and discuss the corridor’s future. To The Examiner that sounds more like a “great opportunity” to leave a graffiti-covered eyesore vacant for another seven years, doing nothing for the neighborhood or The City.

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