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Friday, April 12, 2024

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News + PoliticsOpinionSo Macy's is leaving. Let it go.

So Macy’s is leaving. Let it go.

Let's use that space for a public benefit, not a corporate chain store.

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Remember when Uber wanted to move to Oakland? It’s okay if you don’t; life before this still-ongoing pandemic seems eons ago.

Anyway, in 2015, Uber—that union-smashing, tax-dodging, price-gouging, profit-losing, failed taxi-killer conceived by Randian-fetishist Travis Kalanick—bought Oaktown’s iconic 1955 Broadway complex (aka “the Sears building”) with plans to make it a new headquarters in 2017.

Well, 2017 came, but the only Uber-related news was that Kalanick was on “indefinite leave” following the company’s numerous sexual assault lawsuits. By December of that year, the company unceremoniously sold the building.

Photo by Not My Ken via Wikicommons

I remember talking to a friend after the 2015 purchase. Although I’ve never been an East Bay resident, I was adamantly opposed to that horrible company taking over such a large piece of iconic real estate.

My friend, whose politics are similar-but-not-identical to my own, bemoaned “What do you think they should put there?” He was happy to see any major business come to the area.

In the emotional heat of the moment, I think I mentioned preferring the building stay empty rather than be Uber HQ. But when I got home that night, I thought of what I wished I’d said: “A homeless shelter.” Had I thought it through, I’d have elaborated that the building could be gutted (if not torn down completely) to become free housing, a hospital, a mental health facility, or some combo of the above. Anything but the base of ops for a company whose unchecked greed contributed to so many homeless people sleeping outside that building.

We’re nine years past that conversation and maybe you’ve heard that former retail giant Macy’s is closing stores around the country. One such location is the flagship store in SF’s Union Square, which has operated in that location for over a century. They’re the latest company to pull up stakes and leave SF, citing bullshit “crime” statistics the way Walgreens and others have.

And I’m glad. Seriously, I’m overjoyed! And I’ll tell you exactly why.

For the past few years, that Macy’s has featured a pop-up-but-not-really Toys ‘R’ Us. (You probably didn’t notice it because it’s on the ground floor, meaning it’s often blocked by the SFPD garrison guarding the Louis Vuitton shop.) Like Macy’s, that once-gigantic retailer felt the heat and was forced to close its stores the past decade. It now exists only as a licensed name rather than a proper company. I don’t recall if there was ever a Toys ‘R’ Us in SF proper, but I’m old enough to remember FAO Schwartz on Union Square.

I remember it because I intentionally avoided it during holiday shopping. Yes, I was that “shop local” purist who, admittedly, loved the lights and ice skating that Macy’s sponsored (the company says both the tree and its “window puppies and kitties” will return one last time this coming winter), but chose to shop for my nieces, nephews, and cousins by walking down Maiden Lane to Jeffrey’s Toys (which changed addresses a few times, but all were relatively close to one another). The service, selection, and gift-wrapping were all the reason I needed to support them every year—including this past December.

I don’t care about Macy’s disappearing the way I’m hurt by Jeffrey’s closing after 86 years. I don’t care that there’s no longer a Borders books in SF, because I still miss Marcus Books in the Fillmore and Alexander Books in the Financial District. I would happily love to know that every IHeartRadio affiliate went under if it meant Pirate Cat/Mutiny Radio could stick around. (Fortunately, we still have SomaFM, BayBeats, and CMC, amongst others.)

Every anti-capitalist bone in my body celebrates the death of the greedy Goliath that is Macy’s. But I keep thinking of the Uber conversation: “What do you think they should put there?”

If Breed and her cronies had their way, they’d probably move ahead with their dumbass “downtown soccer stadium” idea. (Did you forget that, too? It’s OK—Breed’s tenure has been so chockful of bad ideas that it’s hard to catalogue them all. In fact, wasn’t she the one who said the new IKEA would revitalize downtown SF? How’d that work out? Anyone?)

No, my idea is simple: Give it to the people.

What the hell does that mean? Well, it can mean damn-near anything. Much like 48 Hills head-honcho Tim Redmond, I’m a proponent of such actions as the State of California taking over PG&E to destroy the company’s monopoly and deliver affordable and reliable power to th4e residents and businesses. Perhaps the Macy’s replacement doesn’t have to go that far, since buying overpriced jeans and bags isn’t a necessity. But think of what could possibly go in that building when it’s not exclusively reserved for brands on Saville Row.

As I mentioned, you could gut it or tear it down and put in a facility for the homeless—not unlike the worked-like-gangbusters move to place them in hotels during the early days of this not-over pandemic.

You could keep the space retail, but make it the exclusive domain of local businesses, who’d now have the most enviable piece of real estate to catch every single SF tourist.

Hell, just tear the whole thing down and make an outdoor park that extends out of Union Square proper. I love the idea of tearing it down the same way I didn’t mind losing the old Embarcadero extension of the Bay Bridge—and that just took an earthquake to get rid of.

In addition to Tim’s repeated suggestion about taking over PG&E, another thing that inspired me to write this was the also-recent news that Walgreens is closing another SF location, this one on Sacramento Street. That’ll put a lot of necessary medications out of the reach of seniors. Now, I’m the guy who picks pharmacies and medical facilities the way he shops for groceries: locally. It’s why my utter lack of insurance has me constantly searching for locations on BayPLS and HealthRight360, or even just popping by Mission Wellness. They offer the sort of personalized support one doesn’t get at Costco or CVS. I think it’s worth having these major corporations taking a hike if it means they’ll be replaced with local alternatives that deliver a more personal, community-focused service.

Imagine the Macy’s sign coming down only for the building to be occupied by a co-op. You want to return SF to the labor-focused spot it became after WWII? That’s one way.

In fact, the same week Macy’s and Walgreens announced their closures, there was also an under-the-radar item about SF’s own Good Vibrations. The sex-positive retailer has long-since been sold from its compassionate founders (one of the reasons I happily moved onto Feelmore in Oakland), which is just one reason why the current corporate overlords made a series of worker-harming decisions during initial COVID lockdowns. Those bad decisions are part of the reason Good Vibes employees recently voted to form a union.

That’s what I want to have happen at the Macy’s spot. When I say “give it to the people,” I mean make it a place where people know the geographical heart of the city is a metaphorical one as well.

One final item I’ll mention from the same news week was how Oakland residents are coping with the A’s impending Vegas migration by insisting the legendary Oakland Coliseum be used as prime real estate for local events. Unfortunately, they’re being blocked at every turn by A’s-owner John Fisher, who’s eager to hurry up and get to Vegas already.

I imagine Breed and her sycophants would use municipal means to block any such use of the Macy’s space. I mean, just look at the way they screwed up the Civic Center farmers’ market. Hers is an administration that doesn’t believe in “support local.”

The past few days have been full of articles waxing nostalgic about how a corporate retailer with golden parachutes will soon be the latest to abandon “Doom-Loop City.” I say: Good riddance.

I say we think of Westfield the same way. I say we treat that location like the fertile ground it is and build up from it something that will genuinely support the city surrounding it. I say this heartless company leaving SF is a blessing, because it opens the door to a million possibilities that are all for the better. I think we should start thinking of all the possible things this city really needs and figure out the best way to fit them into that soon-to-be-abandoned area.

I’ll tell you this much: What SF doesn’t need is Macy’s any more than Oakland needed Uber. It never did.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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