Popular SF clothing boutique to close Noe Valley location after over 2 decades in business

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Friday, July 15, 2022
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Popular San Francisco clothing boutique, Ambiance, will close its popular Noe Valley location after 23 years of business.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A popular San Francisco clothing boutique is shutting down one of its locations -- part of a trend hitting retail stores across the city.

Ambiance has been styling up San Franciscans for decades. Soon, however, the chain's most popular location in Noe Valley will close its doors on Aug. 31.

"It's the end of an era for us," said store owner Donna O'Leary. "Twenty-three years in Noe Valley. It's a big deal, but it was a business decision."

O'Leary says during the pandemic their landlord was very generous in reducing their rent -- so much so, that it would be 70% more expensive to go back to the existing lease.

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"The after-COVID business is not the same as the pre-COVID business," said O'Leary. "Nor are the rents the same."

Facing high costs with record-high inflation, O'Leary lost the lease, and the building was sold.

A reality hitting small businesses across San Francisco -- especially in retail.

"Our retail foot traffic has gone down 33% since 2019," said Emily Abraham, a legislative and community affairs director with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Abraham said there are more than 90,000 small businesses in San Francisco, making up 93% of the city's business community. She says a majority of that group is facing rising rents.

"While rents are rising, small business owners are not seeing the foot traffic or consumer spending that they need in order to meet the demands of increased rent and inflation," said Abraham.

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Since January 2021, rent prices in San Francisco have increased 14%, according to an analysis of data compiled by SFCC. Inflation back then was 1.4%, whereas today inflation is 9.1%.

The slower pace of the pandemic has come at a cost for both O'Leary and her customers.

"We've come here for 20 years," said San Francisco resident Kendal Harris. "I've gotten my prom dresses and my sister's prom dresses, all our graduation dresses. I was hoping my daughters would be able to shop here too."

Hundreds of devoted customers lined the street to get in to shop at the charming black-and-white-colored store that is now covered with closing signs.

"It is very sad," said O'Leary. "But you can see all the support from the neighborhood. This has just been one of the greatest neighborhoods Ambiance has ever been in."

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Ambiance will extend its close-out sale to the public on Friday, July 15. Its Haight Street location previously closed during the pandemic.

But there's a shopping silver lining: O'Leary won't be laying off any staff. They will be moving to the chain's two remaining locations on Irving and Union Streets scheduled to be open seven days a week.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors secured $10 million in the upcoming budget to be used toward grants and loans aimed at helping struggling small businesses.

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