I. Magnin and The City of Paris – 1950’s

As a young child, and through high school, a trip from my small hometown into downtown San Francisco was a special treat.  I’m old enough to remember that in the very early days I had to wear my “Sunday best”, including gloves, and my mother always wore a hat.  The twenty-two-mile trip to The City landed us in a foreign land of glamour and sophistication. We would wander by the storefronts, my mother drooling over the dresses in the windows at I. Magnin and the City of Paris, while I patiently waited for the moment we could go to Blum’s.  Blum’s was a restaurant adjacent to I. Magnin, famous for its confectionery.  A sundae from Blum’s was a sight to behold.  Portending my future relationship with desserts, my eyes were never bigger than my stomach.  Not a drop of ice cream or fudge ever went to waste.

The Nordstrom escalators

In 1978 I began working in the financial district of The City.  When time permitted, I would walk up to Union Square at lunch, and found myself as mesmerized by the shop windows as when I was a child.  This was especially true at Christmas, when the City of Paris erected their giant Christmas tree under their rotunda and Gump’s was a treasure trove of exotic (and expensive) gifts from around the world.  I loved working in The City, and considered myself lucky to work in an environment that was both professionally and personally rewarding.  In 1988 a new shopping experience was added to downtown San Francisco when Nordstrom opened a five-story, flagship store on Market Street.  To enter the store, one had to navigate a series of escalators that wound through the center of the building.  If you were going to the top floor, you were treated the whole way up to lavish displays on each floor, designed to make you stop and buy.  Or at least gawk.  I worked for a woman who was obsessed by Nordstrom – it was not unusual on any given day to see her wander back into the office clutching one of their signature silver boxes.  She performed more than one of my performance reviews in the Nordstrom Cafe, which was fine with me except there was no wine.

People camped out on Market Street

So, with this backdrop I hope you can appreciate how disappointed I was to read of Nordstrom’s decision to close their Market Street location.  They cited the “dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market” as factors that contributed to the decision.  In other words, there is too much crime and not enough foot traffic to justify keeping the store open.  Nordstrom is not alone.  In April, Whole Foods announced the closure of its downtown San Francisco location – a location that it opened just last year.  But it isn’t only Whole Foods and Nordstrom that are closing shop. A slew of other big brand stores are closing due to the street conditions and rampant crime.  In fact, 20 retailers have announced closures in the Union Square area just since 2020.  The companies that have chosen to stay (for now) have taken almost absurd precautions to protect staff and inventory.  The Target store in the Mission District has locked down entire sections due to rampant shoplifting.  Imagine having to find a store clerk to unlock the toothpaste.  I read an observation that I fear may come true – that the hassle of having to get everyday items unlocked before you can purchase them may lead to more store closures, as people will find it easier to have items delivered by Amazon.

I believe this is a problem that will not go away soon, as there is no simple answer.  The tech exodus certainly has hurt the downtown area, as has the trend toward online shopping.  San Francisco also enacted a law that allows minor crimes to go unpunished, which has led to an escalating level of more serious offenses.  Add in the homeless and drug problems, which have garnered so much publicity of late, and the result is the average visitor is reluctant to stroll downtown.

Many of the people who work in the financial district don’t remember when the heart of The City was glorious and safe.  They now see walking downtown, maybe from Montgomery Street up to Union Square, as an obstacle course to be endured, with a destination that has been decimated.  I feel sorry for them, for there was a time when that walk, and the city itself, was truly magical.  I hope it can regain its former glory.


  1. StevenFisher my nieces Husband from a marriage to Her. She was Mary’s and Al’s daughter. He has since her death moved on and built two units in downtown San Francisco. He said we could stay there anytime we wanted. He also has a restaurant on the embargo area of the strip in the bay. Peruvian food and a famous chef. He’s a great person with lots of investments that don’t make since to me.

  2. yes, I often look back on those years as being some of my best, wonderful life long friends were made in a beautiful city to work and a great company, at the time, to work for.

  3. Thank you, sourcing the underlying support for your linking is always good journalism other wise it appears pure conjecture. my old journalism teacher would hav erapped my knuckles for not including it. So far most of the reporting on this subject has been the linking of different logical fallacies that indicate a direct relationship to the rise in crime. I am a native of San Francisco and can testify that it was never a pristine wonderland. The current situation has been brewing for close to 50 years and is not the result of the most recent efforts by law enforcement policy but an on going combination of enforcement and economic policies and the reality that the city can not hold up everyones expectations. It is far too complicated to link to a simple soft on crime scenario and demands hard factual evidence to understand not just some highly questionable news stories. Your points are mostly serene and well taken, it was only the closing argument that I questioned perhaps as being a little overly zealous in attributing cause and effect as in reducing it to an if then statement, if letting minor offenses go un punished then it will cause a rise in violent crime. I believe that is a logical fallacy.

  4. Suzanne, your description of Old San Francisco is “spot on”…… I too loved every year
    I spent working in SF….I’m very saddened by what has happen to our BEAUTIFUL CITY…Thank you so much for sharing this with us….I truly appreciate the time I just spent looking back in history….

    • Thanks, Cathy. We certainly had some good times and I’m grateful that we did. Hope all is well with you!

  5. I’m with you, Suzanne! My heart is still with the old San Francisco!
    And I have no desire to see this beautiful city in decline.

  6. Like you Suzanne, my heart is with Old San Francisco.
    I have no desire to see this beautiful city in decline

  7. Wow. So so sad. Sounds like a west coast version of Detroit. Glad we were able to go when it was in its glory days

  8. Well said.

    It’s gotten so bad that we’re reluctant to drive into SF for dinner or even to museums as your car will be broken into wherever you park.

    Horrible situation with no improvement in sight.

    • Ron – thanks for the comment. It is so sad to see the decline. I wish I could say I was hopeful it would change, but not sure that’s in the cards unless there’s a complete change in governance.

  9. so do I Suzanne – I was there several years ago and it broke my heart to see what has happened to the City I so loved for so many years and enjoyed living and working in it every day!

    • We had the best of times, Deb. I’m glad we worked there when we did – it was a special place. Hope all is well with you.

  10. Suzanne, As always, your descriptions create images that enable me to close my eyes and see my memories. Like you, I am saddened by the decline of the city I was born and raised in. Like you, I too have memories of dressing up for the streetcar ride downtown, and a picture of my grandmother and me, she with her I. Magnin bag and me in my hat and MaryJanes graces the guest bedroom dresser. Simply put, the whole scene today just makes me sick. So, like you, I am left to closing my eyes and treasuring the remembrances. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Thanks, Dee. I know as a native San Franciscan you can really appreciate the changes. I wish I could say I was hopeful it will get better but I’m not. I’m keeping my memories and staying out of there. Hope all is well.

  11. interesting thoughts here. What factual material do you have linking the non prosecution of minor offenses to escalating major offenses?

    • Bill, I still read the SF Chronicle every day and there have been several articles about it over the years. It’s part of the reason Walgreens pulled out of SF entirely – increasingly violent behavior once the laws were changed. Coincidently, CNN ran a special last night, “What Happened to San Francisco”. Worth watching.

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