San Francisco has its share of untouchable landmarks. Cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge—and Gump’s. This iconic retailer has been through multiple transformations since its inception in 1861. It’s currently located in a smallish space on Post Street in Union Square, but its presence in the city looms much larger in terms of civic pride. The store epitomizes a uniquely San Franciscan version of elegance and style.
Though a good portion of Gump’s merchandise is priced far out of reach for the average shopper, knowing that the store is there—is here—is strangely comforting. It’s old school in just the right way, with immensely polite and knowledgeable staff. When you do find something that fits your budget and ask for it to be wrapped, prepare for the process. Your items will be placed in a gold-lidded box, with artfully folded tissue paper, tied up in ribbon, and presented in a shiny red bag. The store does the bulk of its business during the Christmas season, with its sea of wildly expensive and precious tree ornaments making visits to the store a holiday tradition for generations of locals and visitors of every demographic. It’s always a scene.
Yet on August 13, a shocking thing happened. John Chachas, Gump’s chairman, penned an open letter to Mayor London Breed, the Board of Supervisors, and California governor Gavin Newsom, which ran as a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday print edition.
The letter was scathing, and photos of it soon zipped around social media platforms. Among its choicest bits: “San Francisco now suffers from a ‘tyranny of the minority’—behavior and actions of the few that jeopardize the livelihood of the many.”
True. Just one example is the recent lawsuit that the Coalition on Homelessness brought against the city government for not providing every person who arrives in San Francisco (with money for drugs but not rent) a permanent home of his own. Certainly, this lawsuit was neither the decision nor the wish of the vast majority of citizens, but the actions of a fringe group of activists, despised by the majority.
“The ramifications of COVID policies advising people to abandon their offices are only beginning to be understood,” the letter continued.
Indeed, San Francisco public-health officials were especially fervid in their quest to get as many people as possible to abandon office buildings and work from home during the Covid years. As a result, the once vibrant (and economically critical) downtown district was transformed into a ghost town. Small and large businesses alike were ruined as foot traffic stalled and blight spread across the financial district and the shopping area of Union Square.
The letter goes on to pinpoint city policies that have created dangerous and squalid conditions. Because of these policy choices, people openly sell and use illegal drugs on the street and harass the public. As Chachas succinctly explains, the disregard for civilized conduct has negatively affected the livability and safety of San Francisco.
But then came the bold challenge: “Gump’s implores the Governor, the Mayor, and the City Supervisors to take immediate actions, including cleaning the city streets, removing homeless encampments, enforcement of city and state ordinances, and returning San Francisco to its rightful place as one of America’s shining beacons of urban society.”
Did you feel that? It wasn’t an earthquake; it was the sound of hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans standing up and clapping.
San Francisco has entered the post-fear era. Where once it was taboo to discuss the so-called homeless situation without first carefully qualifying one’s speech with assurances of compassion, today people bluntly call it what it is. San Francisco has a serious drug, crime, and “let people do whatever they want” problem. Chachas’s letter resonated with the rapidly growing number of city advocates who are no longer willing to sit back and hope for circumstances to improve.
Next year, the city will hold a municipal election. Mayor London Breed will likely find it a struggle to remain in office, and as many as half of the Board of Supervisors may be replaced. Supervisor Dean Preston, a wealthy democratic socialist, is particularly vulnerable, with a Dump Dean movement gaining momentum. Viable challengers cut from an entirely different cloth politically are emerging.
San Franciscans are getting louder and making demands: restore law and order, support retailers, bring back workers, make the city appealing to families, tourists, and innovators. It’s not complicated or costly. Change the policies that have created the mess.
Meantime, Gump’s is currently selling a lovely pewter letter opener for $88. Sharp, and not bad to have at the ready. For slicing through envelopes, of course.
Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images