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San Francisco Politicians Float Bill Enabling Shoppers to Sue Grocers That Close Stores

Amendment to police code would require food retailers to give six months notice or face repercussions
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Store closing
Two lawmakers in San Francisco are touting a proposed ordinance requiring grocers to give six months notice before closing a store, with a few exceptions

In what would be a first if passed, politicians in San Francisco proposed a regulation that would allow consumers to take legal action against grocers who abruptly shutter their business. The ordinance put before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on April 2 amends the police code and would require large supermarkets to provide six months notice to the city and their customers before closing.

The ordinance was introduced by two city supervisors, Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin. They contend that sudden closings restrict food access for vulnerable residents and also cause hardship for employees.

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The ordinance declares, “Supermarkets are the main points of distribution for food and daily necessities for the residents of San Francisco and are essential to the vitality of a community. The closure of a supermarket can have widespread effects on a community’s wellbeing by reducing access to food and creating food insecurity.”

The legislation acknowledges that grocery stores have business interests that would facilitate closings, including a lack of profitability, and also lists some exceptions, like closures due to unforeseen natural disasters. “This Article 57 does not preclude the owner from making such a decision. Nevertheless, given the life-sustaining services a supermarket provides to residents in the neighborhood, and the important role it plays in strengthening and stabilizing the community it serves, an owner has a responsibility as an integral part of that community to undertake a reasonable effort to work with neighborhood residents and the City to explore opportunities to remain open for business, or to identify a replacement supermarket,” the bill noted.

Grocery stores that fail to comply with this regulation could be sued by affected shoppers, the ordinance’s authors added. They could seek damages or seek a mandate to remedy the violation.

Preston said that a similar ordinance was suggested in 1984, but was vetoed by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein. “Our communities need notice, an opportunity to be heard, and a transition plan when major neighborhood grocery stores plan to shut their doors. Meeting the food security needs of our seniors and families cannot be left to unilateral backroom decisions by massive corporate entities,” he asserted in a news release. 

According to a report from CNN, nearly 40 retail stores have closed in the downtown district since 2020, in the wake of the pandemic and following waves of crime in the area. In April 2023, Whole Foods Market shut down a location that had only opened the year before, citing the need “to ensure the safety of team members.”

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