Storefronts Are Emptying in North Beach. Other Neighborhoods Want to Avoid the Same Fate.
Alex Lash
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The growth of online shopping is surely the leading explanation for the decline of storefront retail in San Francisco and elsewhere. (The lobby of my 60-unit apartment building is filled with dozens of parcels daily, some quite large. This is a relatively new phenomenon; fifteen years ago, parcels in the lobby were few and far between.) But based on observation, there are other factors seldom reported. The growth of tech in San Francisco has led to an influx of young people. Though this is a positive development in my opinion, it seems that interest in buying stuff has declined among millennials vis-a-vis previous cohorts of young people. At a time when when much quotidian experience occurs on that ubiquitous device called a smartphone, there’s less interest in material goods. Augmenting this is a wide preference among millennials for experience — eating and traveling, for example — over material consumerism. Also, more than ever, young people delay marriage, especially in San Francisco, which means delaying family, which also delays the high-consumption period of life associated with children in the home. Another factor: Chain stores like Forever 21 and Uniqlo, among others, churn out incredibly cheap merchandise made possible by low-cost foreign labor, inexpensive materials, super-efficient distribution, and a sustained effort to promote new styles every few weeks. The cost of clothing is so low that many consumers regard clothing as essentially disposable, but only if they return to the source, the big low-cost chains that have perfected and thrive on this model, to refresh their wardrobes. I also look at my own habits. Increasingly, I see the cost to the planet and humanity of consumerism. This has influenced me — and others, no doubt — to want and buy less stuff. Like an increasing number of people, I posit, I’ve come to realize that my life’s happiness does not depend on having new or more stuff, and beyond this, that minimizing my consumption is the most potent thing I can do to contribute to the sustainability of life as we know it on earth.