Hopes Dim for a Haight Street Lift

Originally published December 8, 2011

By Ian Sherr

When Whole Foods Market Inc. opened a store in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury early this year, many locals and community leaders hoped it would help improve a grungy corner of their famous neighborhood. Nearly a year later, they’re still waiting.

Since the upscale market opened in February across from a section of Golden Gate Park known as Alvord Lake, known for attracting drug dealers and homeless people, crime within a 500-foot radius of the store has shot up, according to the San Francisco Police Department. At the same time, Whole Foods hasn’t lifted the overall neighborhood’s business prospects, sales-tax receipts data from the San Francisco Comptroller’s Office show.

While the Whole Foods store has brought new customers to the neighborhood, changing the feel of the area, “the riffraff hasn’t gone away,” says Joe Goldmark, who co-owns an Amoeba Music store across the street from the store.

For its part, Whole Foods has tried to meet these challenges. It hired security guards and one plainclothes officer who are at the store throughout the day. The store’s management also regularly confer with police about crime in the area.

The company has also tried to help improve the local economy in Haight-Ashbury by partnering with local food producers in its efforts to offer healthy food to customers. “We’re always concerned about the neighborhoods we’re in,” said Libba Letton, a Whole Foods spokeswoman, who added that the store’s managers are always looking for more ways to help the community.

Whole Foods’ experience in Haight-Ashbury so far shows how nearly a half-century after the 1960s “Summer of Love,” when thousands of people swarmed the neighborhood as part of the counterculture movement, the area is still grappling with the uneven gentrification unfolding there.

Today, vacationers flock to the area to snap pictures of the famous intersection at Haight and Ashbury streets. The neighborhood has become a destination for tech workers, as well as aging hippies and runaway youths. Amid that mix, property values have risen over the years, but some areas, like the end of Haight Street that Whole Foods inhabits, have improved at a snail’s pace.



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(Published Dec. 8, 2011, in The Wall Street Journal.)