Brooks Brothers spinoff approved

They hoped to be welcoming holiday shoppers to their new store on Fillmore Street, but instead staffers from Black Fleece—a new brand from Brooks Brothers—were at City Hall December 17 seeking permission to proceed.

Because it is part of the Brooks Brothers chain, the opening was delayed by the city’s formula retail ordinance, which requires a conditional use permit before the store can renovate the former home of Simon Pearce at 2223 Fillmore.

The Planning Commission praised and unanimously approved the Black Fleece store, but not before some members voiced concerns about chain stores.

“I think we’re rapidly approaching a point where additional formula retail, as nice as they may be, may become a concern,” said commissioner Hisashi Sugaya, pointing to a map of the Upper Fillmore Neighborhood Commercial District showing about 25 percent of the businesses in the area are chain stores. “I’m not saying it’s here right now, but at some point.”

There were no limits on chain stores in the neighborhood before voters changed the rules in 2006. Now companies with 11 or more outlets must be approved by the Planning Commission.

Brooks Brothers argued it didn’t fall under the new restrictions since this will be only the second Black Fleece store. The first, in New York, opened a year ago.

But city planners said it did, and the company set about introducing itself to neighborhood residents and merchants and seeking their support.

“I have spent the last three and a half months on Fillmore Street with my team,” Brooks Brothers’ chief real estate officer Kathy Self told the Planning Commission. She sported a red carnation on her lapel, as did a number of supporters, making themselves visible in the audience.

Self acknowledged that the Black Fleece brand, created by designer Thom Browne, had initially been sold in Brooks Brothers stores.

“We tested it in several of our stores,” she said. But now Black Fleece stands alone, she said, and no other Brooks Brothers products will be sold in the store. Self said the Fillmore store will primarily sell menswear, with only about 15 percent of its merchandise for women.

“We believe this store will be an asset,” she said. “At this time, there is not a true menswear store on Fillmore.”

No one objected to Black Fleece’s plans.

“We’re honored to have only the second store in the United States,” said commissioner Michael Antonini. “I think they picked a great place for it.”

Commissioner Kathrin Moore recalled Ralph Lauren’s promises to be involved in the community when it became the first chain store on Fillmore approved under the new ordinance. She asked whether Black Fleece would make a similar pledge.

“We definitely want to be a part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” said store manager Robert Oren, who pointed out he had lived nearby on Washington Street for 10 years.

Moore said Fillmore Street plays a special role.

“It is really a seam between the most affluent neighborhood of San Francisco and those who have been marginalized,” she said, “and I think it’s a healthy mix.”

Moore said a recent trip to Boston brought home the downside of chain stores.

“It is deplorable,” she said of the proliferation of chain stores in Boston, even in historic districts. “Go to Boston and see what it does. It totally sucks the energy out of a beautiful city.”

Planning Commission president Ron Miguel said he hears similar sentiments from his wife, who seeks out unusual shops when she travels, but now finds the same stores wherever she goes.“We do have to be careful,” Miguel said.

Black Fleece is expected to open in March.

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