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Athleta store gets go-ahead

Athleta, the women’s athletic apparel brand that is now part of the Gap’s corporate family, is moving forward with plans to open a retail store at 2226 Fillmore Street, the longtime home of the Junior League’s Next-to-New resale shop.

The city’s board of appeals has rejected a request to review whether Athleta should be considered a chain store under the city’s formula retail ordinance. Zoning administrator Lawrence Badiner earlier determined that Athleta is not part of a chain, even though it is owned by the Gap. But only the Gap’s attorneys were notified of the ruling, since no address for the Athleta store was given. By the time neighborhood residents and merchants learned of the Gap’s plans to open an Athleta store on Fillmore, the time for filing an appeal had expired.

Clary Sage Organics, a store across the street at 2241 Fillmore that also manufactures and sells women’s athletic wear, sought to appeal anyway, and the lack of notice became the main issue before the board of appeals. After a lengthy discussion, a majority of the board agreed to hear the appeal on a 3-2 vote, but four votes were required to grant the appeal.

Athleta president Joe Teno said the company will proceed with the Fillmore store and hopes to open in the fall. Athleta opened its first retail store in Strawberry Village in Mill Valley this summer and is testing some of the ideas it will use in what he called its “flagship store” on Fillmore.

Clary Sage founder Patti Cazzato said she remains opposed to Athleta. “We’re still fighting it,” she said, and will seek discretionary review of the store’s building permit. “I think we have a chance of winning.”

Athleta was an independent online and catalog company based in Petaluma with no retail outlets when it was acquired in 2008 by the Gap for $150 million. Since then Athleta has been incorporated into the Gap’s website — along with its Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Gap labels — and the company has begun exploring ways to develop Athleta retail stores. Gap Inc. operates more than 3,000 retail stores worldwide.


Gap Inc.’s successful strategy of having its Athleta subsidiary determined not to be a chain store before specifying the store’s address may provide a model for other companies seeking to elude neighborhood opposition. With no address, no notice is required to nearby residents or merchants. With no notice, there are no objections.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Paul Wermer, a director of the Pacific Heights Residents Association, which urged the city’s board of appeals to hear the Athleta issue because no notice was given. “The Gap has very successfully leveraged a gap in the system,” he said. “This is a wonderful opening for any large company that wants to sneak something in.”

Athleta president Joe Teno said he was not aware of any attempt to withhold the address of the store. “This is the first I’m hearing of it,” he said. “We signaled our intention with the Junior League many weeks ago.”