Whole Foods Closes Flagship San Francisco Store, Citing Fears for Employees’ Safety

Since the Covid pandemic, dozens of retailers have abandoned San Francisco citing high crime and abuse of their employees by aggressive drug addicts and homeless people.

AP/Jeff Chiu
Tents line a sidewalk on Golden Gate Avenue at San Francisco. AP/Jeff Chiu

Another major retailer, this one a brand iconic among American liberals, is shuttering its flagship San Francisco store after just one year because of concerns for its employees’ safety in the crime- and drug-ridden mid-Market neighborhood.

Amazon-owned Whole Foods, founded at Austin, Texas, in the 1970s as a health food emporium, closed its location at the Golden City’s Eighth and Market streets on Monday, according to a report in the San Francisco Standard. A Whole Foods spokesman told the outlet that the closing is temporary and that the company would reevaluate the decision at a later date “if we feel we can ensure the safety of our team members in the store.”

When Amazon opened the 64,000-square-foot mid-Market location in March 2022, a press release hailed it as the company’s “flagship” location in San Francisco. It promised an array of organic fare, locally sourced produce and cheeses, hundreds of craft beers, and a sushi bar. As part of its corporate outreach efforts and to “give back to the San Francisco community,” the company also created an organization, the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, to increase equity in business ownership for women, immigrants, and people of color.

“The store’s design nods to classic San Francisco with inspiration from the former Crystal Palace Market, the modern, industrial feel of the Tenderloin district and the iconic colors of the Golden Gate Bridge,” the company crowed.

Just six months later, the company slashed its operating hours after complaining about high theft rates and hostile clientele. At the time, a store manager said security concerns about the neighborhood forced its hand. A month later, in November, the store announced new security measures for its bathrooms after customers complained about syringes and pipes found littering the restrooms.

Since the Covid pandemic, dozens of retailers have abandoned San Francisco, citing high crime and abuse of their employees by aggressive drug addicts and homeless people. A steep decline in foot traffic since the pandemic as more and more office workers opt to work from home has also exacerbated the exodus.

Walgreens has closed about a dozen stores downtown in the last couple of years, and many of the remaining stores have reduced their nighttime hours in order to reduce robberies. Gap closed its flagship store in 2020, and the Salt Lake City-based Cotopaxi — which promises “sustainably designed outdoor gear that fuels global change” — also closed its downtown San Francisco location after a little less than a year.

In a LinkedIn post that went viral, Cotopaxi’s CEO, Davis Smith, said rampant organized theft and threats against its employees left the company no other choice. Within a week of opening, he said, the Hayes street location’s windows were broken and thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise was stolen. Organized crime rings targeted the store several times a week during the year it was open, he said.

“It’s sad, but San Francisco appears to have descended into a city of chaos,” Mr. Smith said. “Many streets and parks are overrun with drugs, criminals, and homelessness, and local leadership and law enforcement enable it through inaction. One of the most beautiful and amazing cities in the world is now a place where many no longer feel safe visiting or living.

“Our team is terrified,” he added. “They feel unsafe. Security guards don’t help because these theft rings know that security guards won’t/can’t stop them. It’s impossible for a retail store to operate in these circumstances, especially when cities refuse to take any action (despite us paying taxes well above any other state we operate in).”

The New York Sun

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