Head shop moratorium a head-scratcher
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The ban on head shops on Haight Street sounds like a joke. Of course
there are head shops on Haight. Isn't that the whole point for the
home of the Summer of Love?
Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a
moratorium Tuesday on new "tobacco paraphernalia establishments" for
at least three years. Not that much will change.
There are an estimated dozen smoke shops along Haight Street with
handcrafted pipes, bongs and bubblers. Really, this isn't so much
about law and order, or preserving the culture of the Haight, but
rather good old profits in dollars and cents.
In February, when a local merchant opened Goodfellas - which one
competitor calls "the Wal-Mart of bongs" - the rest of the smoke
shops began to feel the pinch. If any more of those places opened,
they'd drive the old incense-burning, tie-dyed head shops right out
of business. The result was the moratorium, introduced by Supervisor
But that doesn't solve the underlying problem.
"It's too late," said Mark Faigenbaum, who manages the Into Video
store. "I've been here since 1982 and it has just gotten worse and
worse with stores selling all that hippie crap."
The ordinance is just a symptom of the bigger problem, which is that
the residents of the Haight have to decide what they want to be. Do
they want to gentrify the Haight or hate the gentrification?
I'd say the answer is already clear. Having verged dangerously close
to becoming a hippie theme park, the area is now bustling with
business activity. Families continue to move in with children,
determined to make life in the city work.
There are going to be some tough calls as the Haight moves toward a
vibrant business area, and this is one of them. Goodfellas isn't my
idea of a great addition to the neighborhood, but if it works and
makes money, residents are just going to have to deal with it.
Mirkarimi's legislation says the smoke shops "contribute directly to
numerous problems in the city, including violations of the peace, and
health, safety, and general welfare problems."
That's a nice thought, but let's be honest, the problems on the
sidewalks of the Haight are the seedy-looking guys who are
panhandling, drinking and yelling at tourists.
A better argument is that mega-shops are not in keeping with the
culture of the neighborhood.
"Quite honestly what set everyone off was Goodfellas," said Joey
Cain, president of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council. "This
uber-giant bong shop."
Goodfellas and Puff Puff Pass across the street have shelves of bongs
that stretch from the floor to the rafters. Legally, those products
should not be visible to pedestrians under 18 years of age from the
street, but the displays are so large they are impossible to miss.
"When tourists come here and see a Wal-Mart of pipes, that's not what
Haight is all about," said Elissa Fircano, who works behind the
counter at Distractions, a Haight Street fixture for 33 years. "We
want Haight back to what it used to be. These other stores are not
Haight Street friendly."
I don't know about being Haight Street friendly, but they certainly
aren't media friendly. Neither store wanted anything to do with an
interview. At Puff Puff I was told the owner was "away," for at least
"a week," and if I wanted to talk to somebody else there was "nobody."
There isn't any question that the bulk bong folks are hurting
business for the old timers. Distractions has a for-sale sign over
the door - "legendary head shop for sale" - and other stores admit to
feeling the pressure.
However, the irony of head shops campaigning for regulation of head
shops isn't lost of some of the residents. Praveen Madan is co-owner
of Booksmith on Haight.
"Would I like a moratorium saying that there would be no more
bookstores?" Madan said. "Of course I would. That's what we are
struggling with here. Do you really want the government to step in
and decide which is a good business and which is bad?"
And then Madan really goes off the deep end.
"In a free market," he said, "if there are too many head shops, some
of them will go out of business."
As difficult as it is to say, he's right. Personally, I don't like
the idea of a big, flashy, obnoxious bong store. But that doesn't
mean it doesn't have a right to exist. You can't legislate against
the poor taste of tourists. No matter what they're smoking.
C.W. Nevius' column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. E-mail
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Francisco values: Protect bong shops & ban chain stores
By Dennis Wyatt
POSTED July 4, 2009
The land of hippies has gone for government controls to protect head
shops from competition.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week unanimously passed a
moratorium on the opening of new tobacco paraphernalia establishments
for three years on Haight Street in the Haight-Asbury neighborhood
immortalized by the "Summer of Love."
Given there are three dozen plus head shops already on Haight Street
selling everything from bongs to bubblers, this obviously isn't about
catering to the growing family-orientation of the neighborhood nor is
it about law and order. No, this is about seeking government
protection to keep prices up.
You got it. The neighborhood that thumbed its nose at the military
establishment and capitalism sought and got government protection
against what they feared was an onslaught of low-cost head shops that
could drive them out of business. Several have already closed unable
or unwilling to compete on prices.
The problems are two new stores the competitors are describing as the
"Wal-Mart of head shops" that offer deep discounts and are packed
from floor to ceiling with bongs.
One competitor said such stores are giving the wrong impression of
Haight-Asbury to tourists as it is displacing the traditional head shops.
Just so you understand, the very people who are part of the movement
to make a lot of drugs legal that currently aren't such, as pot, by
contending it is none of the government's business are openly
advocating for that same government to protect them against
competition or if you prefer help them prop up prices by limiting
the stores that can sell bongs.
San Francisco has a reputation for chasing out chain stores on the
premise of protecting neighborhood character. The "Wal-Marts of
bongs" that started the outrage Goodfellas as well as Puff Puff
Pass aren't exactly found in malls. They are simply storefront
shops that have gone gaga over bongs and priced them to move.
Hypocrisy, of course, is rich in San Francisco.
While they rally against corporations and other agents that go
against so-called "San Francisco values" that Mayor Gavin Newsom
likes to brag about, many of those that man the brigades in The City
are garden variety hypocrites. It's true they speak of lofty ideals
such as saving the Sierra, but when push comes to shove San
Franciscans are flushing their toilets with water trapped by
destroying the Hetch Hetchy Valley an act that broke the heart of
Sierra Club founder John Muir who is one of the icons of The City.
San Francisco over the years has rallied against Los Angeles for its
excesses including destroying Owens Lake and damaging Mono Lake two
fragile eco-systems while they forget the fact they destroyed the
Hetch Hetchy Valley to fuel San Francisco's growth.
Los Angeles essentially bought up the land that drained into Owens
Lake that over 50 years ago went from a teeming lake to dust bowl
once the water was diverted to L.A. San Francisco did it the
politically correct way by getting Congress to give them a sweetheart
deal that requires them to pay pennies on the dollar of what the
federal government would charge anyone else.
Of course, when water is heavily subsidized by the federal government
for large farms to raise food that is an act against man whereas San
Francisco getting an extreme price break is proper.
Again, it is a classic San Francisco maneuver. Take the high road
verbally and force others to follow it but when San Francisco's own
interests are at stake it becomes situational ethics.
Protecting bong sales in the Haight while driving away chain stores
that can bring lower priced products to that city's ever shrinking
working class plus being hypocrites about water supplies says a lot
about "San Francisco values."