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Hamburger Mary's -- Con position
Hamburger Mary’s - Necessary and Desirable?
By Gary Weiss, Owner IXIA on Market Street
[Editor's Note: There has been some confusion as to the definition of the Planning Department's CU process for Formula Retail: "necessary AND desirable" or "necessary OR desirable." While both terms have been used on department documentation, a review with the San Francisco Planning Department Senior Policy Advisor, AnMarie Rodgers revealed that the accurate term is "necessary OR desirable" per Section 303(c)(1) of the Planning Code requiring that "the proposed use...will provide a development that is necessary OR desirable for, and compatible with, the neighborhood or the community." We apologize for the confusion].
15 years - that’s how long the enormous Patio Cafe space has sat in a state of abandonment - in the middle of one of the busiest and most expensive business districts in the city. Many have been incredulous as to how or why anyone - regardless of his bank account - would continue to leave this space vacant, despite the anger and frustration experienced by everyone in our community.
Several times there were signs that something would possibly happen. There were a few occasions during which Les Natali, the owner since 1989, approached the supervisor and several of our neighborhood associations for help straightening out some permitting issues. We gladly gave our support. We were desperate to get the Patio open again.
The Patio Cafe was an establishment that was truly loved. It was an important fixture on Castro Street - especially through the 70s and 80s. It became more than a restaurant; it was a place to gather, and Sunday brunch was the most popular show in town!
Hamburger Mary’s was an iconic institution - it opened on Folsom Street in 1972. It was owned, operated and patronized mostly by gays and lesbians. It was fun, it was cheap and everyone loved it. For several reasons it shut down 20 or 25 years later.
In 2007 a group of businessmen decided to open up a worldwide chain of restaurants using a suburban knockoff of the old Hamburger Mary’s as its theme. As of now, there are 12 open in the US and one in Berlin. Many more are on the way. Half of the company’s website is dedicated to enticing businesspeople to purchase a franchise.
Do we want a chain restaurant taking over one of the largest retail spaces in the Castro?
According to the San Francisco Planning Dept., someone applying to open up a formula retail (chain store) business in the city must prove that it is both “necessary and desirable”. [See Editor's note above.]
Currently we have Sliders, Slider Bar, Orphan Andy’s, Super Duper, The Cove, and I would venture to say that the majority of all of the other restaurants in the neighborhood offer some form of burger.
The argument most often made in favor of having Hamburger Mary’s open has to do with wanting desperately to have anything open there. After all of these years of living with Mr. Natali’s huge ghost ship sitting idle, bringing down property values and damaging neighboring businesses, the feeling is “anything is better than nothing.”
But is it?
What would you like your neighborhood to be? People still come from all over the world to experience what history there is left. People envy us for having this neighborhood, this city. Would they feel that way if the same businesses they drive by every day in their home towns are also on Castro Street? Chipotle? Chevy’s? The Gap? How about a “boutique” Bed Bath and Beyond? Each one of these corporation-run, ubiquitous chains acts to dilute what makes our neighborhood so special - worth going out of your way to visit. Is there a tipping point when suddenly we realize that too many of our businesses are mainstream. Suddenly you could be anywhere and see the same stuff.
Many property owners prefer renting to formula retail businesses. Most people are under the impression that a chain store can not only afford to pay higher rents but sign a longer lease.
If one of Home Depot’s new smaller neighborhood hardware stores opened on the street and underpriced Cliff’s, would Cliff’s be long for this world?
So is Hamburger Mary’s “necessary”? That would be a hard one to prove.
Is it “desirable”? Maybe in Pleasanton.