SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On 8th and Market streets in San Francisco Tuesday, there was a steady stream of disappointment. One by one, people looking for a quick lunch were showing up at the city's flagship Whole Foods only to learn it had abruptly shuttered.
"Nooooo," one woman cried out as read the sign hanging on the door.
"I don't know where I'm going to eat," another woman exclaimed.
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For many, the announcement that the city's largest Whole Foods -- which opened just over a year ago -- was closing due to safety concerns, was yet another blow for people who live and work in the Mid-Market neighborhood.
In 2018, an SFGate article announcing the opening of the store, optimistically pronounced: "San Francisco's massive new Whole Foods set to transform Mid-Market." The story boasted that the 55,000-square-foot store is "expected to become the hub of a neighborhood that has seen an explosion of new housing and tech offices but lacks the conveniences and amenities of an established neighborhood."
But five years -- and one pandemic -- later, residents in the area say there's been no such transformation.
"I think the neighborhood was really coming together as the Trinity Place development was finishing, and then we knew that Whole Foods was going to be coming, and so there was a lot of optimism," San Francisco supervisor Matt Dorsey, who lives in and represents the area, said. "And then COVID arrived and then there were a lot of things with drug dealing and open air drug scenes."
Dorsey said it's "heartbreaking" to see that Whole Foods "gave up" on the area, which has also had an exodus of tech workers during the pandemic.
"I was really hoping they would hold on," he said. "I wish they had held on, but I can't blame them for not."
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That was a sentiment echoed by several people outside the closed Whole Foods on Tuesday afternoon.
"It's obvious. It's right where all the homeless people are," a frequent shopper named Zula said. "They come and steal and what I notice is the guards can't do anything for their safety, so it's understandable, but I'm upset."
Announcing the closure, a spokesperson for Whole Foods said, "to ensure the safety of our team members, we have made the difficult decision to close the Trinity store for the time being" and that "all team members will be transferred to one of our nearby locations."
Many of the people ABC7 News spoke to, including Dorsey, who regularly shopped at the Whole Foods said shoplifting was a major problem, in addition to the nearby open drug use. The Whole Foods is across the street from the site of the Linkage Center the city had temporarily opened last year to connect people in the Tenderloin to drug treatment, mental health and housing services.
Dorsey said that late last year the Whole Foods had slashed their hours citing safety concerns. And he said that the store no longer had grocery baskets for shoppers.
"I know they had about 250 of those when they opened, and all of them were taken as shop lifting implements," Dorsey said.
In response to the closure, Dorsey announced he's drafting a Charter Amendment with fellow San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani to increase the San Francisco Police Department's staffing, including new efforts to recruit and retain members.
The amendment would reinstate a requirement that the city maintain a minimum staffing level of full-duty police officers. Dorsey is proposing that minimum staffing be 2,182 police officers -- roughly 700 more than are on the force now.
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He said that he believes more police will allow the department to create units designated specifically to tackle quality of life safety issues.
"We should not be in a situation where a flagship supermarket is closing because of the public safety challenges they're facing," Dorsey said. "And I'm going to be honest with you, it was really discouraging to walk to work this morning and to realize that the only thriving business that's going on on the corner of Market Street and 8th Street is drug dealing."
"We deserve better as a city," he added, "And if we have a fully staffed police department we'll get it."
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