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With a new owner opening a mega-mall down the street, the future of the Metreon is uncertain. Will you miss it? Find out where you stand!

Wednesday, Jul 5 2006
Changes are afoot at the Metreon, the much-maligned shopping center at Mission and Fourth streets opened by Sony in 1999. Envisioned as a groundbreaking combination of movies, shopping, dining, gaming, and exhibits, the Metreon boasted several one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants that never found an audience. The Microsoft store and The Way Things Work closed in 2001, and another major exhibit, "Where the Wild Things Are," finally shut down last year. The Loews movie theater has become one of the busiest in the United Sates, but Sony — which has replaced failed ventures with its own struggling stores in the Metreon — gets no cut of the box office. Earlier this year, the Metreon was bought by the Westfield Group, the international mall development company that is merging the old Emporium and its San Francisco Centre at Union Square into a new mega-mall that will be the largest west of the Mississippi when it opens in September. As the future of the oft-criticized Metreon becomes cloudier, San Francisco is left to ponder its dubious legacy. Are you an apologist for the Metreon? Take our quiz and find out!

1) Sony executives habitually stressed that the Metreon was not intended to be a normal mall, but rather a "Disneyland of retail," where customers would be more likely to pay higher prices for a unique shopping experience, with stores they couldn't find anywhere else. How would you classify the Metreon?

A) As the Euro Disney of retail.

B) It's a great, great experience if you're downtown and in desperate need of a public restroom.

C) The mall of the future of the past.

2) Trevor Bryant, the former Sony senior vice president who served as creative director for the Metreon and oversaw the construction of the $85 million "urban entertainment destination," told the Chronicle last week that he was sad the project had gone so awry. "It was supposed to be a place where you couldn't tell where the entertainment ended and the retail began," Bryant said. Do you think the Metreon could have achieved that balance?

A) Well, it was certainly a place where the entertainment ended.

B) Maybe if it had replaced that How Things Work store with a How Malls Fail outlet.

C) Absolutely. What's an urban entertainment destination without a Microsoft store? Actually, let me rephrase that: What's an urban entertainment destination?

3) Many analysts contend that Sony — somewhat out of its element running a retail development — never really gave the Metreon the support and creative thinking that its unique situation required. But Sony still appears committed: The only retail stores that are sure to stay in the retooled Metreon are Sony's PlayStation store and the Sony Style store. How often do you visit the Sony Style store?

A) You mean online?

B) Whenever I wasn't blowing my paycheck at the Discovery Channel Store!

C) All the time. I mean, where else can you find the newest Mariah Carey CD for only $21.95? (Bonus point for adding: "OK, besides Sam Goody.")

4) In your experience, what's the best aspect of a trip to the Metreon?

A) Getting out alive.

B) Seeing which stores have closed since I've been there last.

C) The whiff of Microsoft's failure.

5) The most popular and profitable feature of the Metreon continues to be the 15-screen Loews movie theater, although Sony has resisted previous suggestions to convert the entire development into a larger cineplex. Do you enjoy seeing films at the Metreon?

A) Actually, I've never seen a movie there. I've only waited in line at the concession stand for a quesadilla that never arrives.

B) Oh, yes. And I especially love seeing films break, or hearing the soundtrack drop out at key moments — essential elements of the Loews Metreon experience.

C) Absolutely. It's so great to have a theater that you can bring your screaming infant to!

6) With more space available because of its retail vacancies, the Metreon is currently hosting a commercial exhibit on the Titanic, featuring items from passengers and pieces of the ship. Do you think the Titanic exhibition is an appropriate use of the Metreon's space?

A) Um ... it's a little too appropriate.

B) Sure. I just hope they don't have to close down the world's most depressing video game arcade to fit it in.

C) It's a poignant, tender, and tragic tale ... I only wish the captain of the good ship Metreon had seen that iceberg approaching.

7) With the expanded Westfield Shopping Center set to be unveiled in Union Square in September, the future of the Metreon as a mall may be in doubt. What kind of development do you think would work best for the space?

A) Hmm ... maybe a difficult-to-find store themed around the children's book, "Where the Wild Things Are." They could call it "Where the Customers Aren't."

B) How about a Starbucks? Oh, there's already a Starbucks inside? Yeah, I guess I wouldn't know that.

C) Hey, how about a big mall?

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: We know, we know. With a name like Metreon, how could it possibly go wrong?

7-10 points: Let's just hope they don't tear down the building, and San Francisco loses another architectural marvel.

11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for the Metreon. And you must be wearing boxer shorts that say "Sony" on them.

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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