San Francisco proposal would allow lawsuits over grocery store closures

San Francisco supervisor wants grocery stores to give six months notice before closing an outlet.

A San Francisco legislator introduced a bill that would require grocery store owners to give six months notice before closing their stores and to look for a new supermarket to replace the one they are leaving.

Dean Preston, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced the Grocery Protection Act, which was based on an original proposal that the board had approved in 1984, but Dianne Feinstein, then the Mayor of San Francisco, vetoed.

Preston’s proposal requires grocery store owners give six-month written notice to both the Board of Supervisors and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. As a way to inform customers and the public, notices would be posted at all entrances and exits. This rule would not prevent a store from closing if it is unprofitable.

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Preston stated in a release that “it was a great idea in 1984 and even better now.” When major neighborhood grocery shops plan to close their doors, our communities need to be notified, given an opportunity to voice their opinions, and have a plan for transition. The food security of our families and seniors cannot be left up to the unilateral decisions made in secret by large corporate entities.

If the business closure is due to circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable when notice was required, or in the event of a natural disaster, the six-month notice period will be waived.

The notice is not required if a business is actively looking for capital or customers that will allow it to postpone or avoid the closure, and if they have a good faith belief that the closing notice would’ve prevented the store from getting the necessary capital or customers to remain open.

The grocery stores that rely on these exceptions will still need to provide as much notice before closing as possible and explain why they have reduced the notice period.

The bill also requires that grocery stores “meet with and work in good-faith with neighborhood residents” and the OEWD, to find a solution that works to keep groceries at the location. These solutions may include identifying resources and strategies to keep the store open, assisting residents to organize and start a cooperative, and finding another grocery store operator who will take over the location and continue to sell groceries.

According to the law, anyone affected by the failure of a grocery to meet the requirements can initiate legal proceedings to seek damages, declaratory relief or injunctive relief.

Preston’s proposal is coming as San Francisco struggles with an increase in office and store closures due to a drug and crime crisis which has made it harder for businesses to function.

A Whole Foods store in San Francisco shut down last year, just a year after opening. According to the New York Times, records showed that 568 emergency calls were made at the Market Street location in 13 months due to vagrants throwing foods, yelling and fighting, as well as attempting to defecate onto the floor. At least 14 arrests took place at the site.

Safeway, which announced in January it was closing a store on Webster Street in March, retracted that announcement, and stated that the Webster Street store would remain open until January 2025.