Say hey, San Francisco. West Bay residents no longer need to get lost in Emeryville – as your humble narrator did about 24 hours ago – to browse absurdly cheap furniture and eat Swedish meatballs.
On Tuesday, Ikea sister company Ingka Centers completed the purchase of the empty 6 × 6 mall on Market Street between 5th and 6th and confirmed that Ikea will be the anchor tenant. The mall will be the first in North America for Ingka centers, and the Ikea store within it will be the furniture giant’s first full-service location in the downtown area of a major American city (rather than a standalone big box location owned by is surrounded by a spacious parking lot). In addition to the Ikea store, the mall will be “complemented by mixed-use offers that are specifically suited to San Franciscans and their lifestyle,” says a press release that is likely to be reflected in vegan Swedish meatballs.
The arrival of Ikea marks a long-awaited moment of redemption for the 6 × 6 mall and mid-market corridor, the promised revitalization of which has come in fits and starts over the past decade. When it opened in 2016, the 6 × 6 mall was supposed to expand the Union Square shopping district south towards the newly opened offices for Twitter and Uber near the Civic Center BART. Instead, 6 × 6 could not win a single tenant for four years.
The mall became a dazzling form of the plague; The empty, 250,000 square meter crystal palace serves as a brutal counterpoint to the many people who sleep on the streets below. At SF Weekly, Nuala Bishari wrote about the ability to convert 6 × 6 and other empty shopping malls into navigation centers for the homeless. Mayor Breed’s office reportedly considered this possibility in 2019.
While homelessness continues to be a major challenge for the neighborhood, there are other signs that their economic fortunes are changing. Last year, San Francisco’s first Supreme store opened just down the street from the mall, adding to a Thrasher store around the corner on September 6th. Housing construction has also increased in the area, with hundreds of new units under construction in the blocks around the mall. Across the street from 6 × 6, the Serif, a striking hotel and apartment complex designed by the Danish star architect Bjarke Ingalls, is about to be completed.
Ikea seems to be betting that new residents’ appreciation for Scandinavian design extends to interior design – although Serif residents will likely be closer to BoConcept’s price range. For the rest of us minimalist furniture enthusiasts, swapping the insanely confusing Powell Street exit in Emeryville for the fare booths at Powell BART Station will be a relief.