Say hej, San Francisco. No longer will West Bay residents need to get lost in Emeryville — as your humble narrator did approximately 24 hours ago — to browse absurdly cheap furniture and eat Swedish meatballs.
On Tuesday, Ikea sister company Ingka Centres finalized its 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 Centres, and the Ikea store therein will be the furniture behemoth’s first full-service location in the downtown of a major American city (rather than a standalone big box location surrounded by a sprawling parking lot). In addition to the Ikea store, the mall will be “complemented with mixed-use offerings that are uniquely suited to San Franciscans and their lifestyle,” a press release reads, which probably translates to vegan Swedish meatballs.
Ikea’s arrival marks a long-awaited moment of redemption for the 6×6 mall and the Mid-Market corridor, whose promised revitalization has proceeded in fits and starts for the past decade. When it opened in 2016, the 6×6 mall was intended to extend the Union Square shopping district south, toward the newly opened offices for Twitter and Uber near Civic Center BART. Instead, 6×6 failed to attract a single tenant for four years.
The mall became a glitzy form of blight; the empty 250,000 square foot crystal palace serving as a brutal counterpoint to the many people sleeping on the streets below. At SF Weekly, Nuala Bishari wrote about the possibility of 6×6 and other empty malls being transformed into homeless navigation centers. Mayor Breed’s office reportedly considered that possibility in 2019.
While homelessness continues to be a huge challenge for the neighborhood, there are other signs that its economic fortunes are turning. Last year San Francisco’s first Supreme store opened just down the street from the mall, complementing a Thrasher store around the corner on 6th. Housing construction has been ramping up in the area, too, with hundreds of new units under construction in the blocks surrounding the mall. Just across the street from 6×6, the Serif, a striking hotel and condo complex designed by Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingalls is nearing completion.
Ikea seems to be betting that new residents’ appreciation for Scandinavian design will extend to interior furnishings — although Serif residents will likely be closer to the BoConcept price bracket. For the rest of us minimalist furniture enthusiasts, it will be a relief to trade the insanely confusing Powell Street exit in Emeryville for the Powell BART station fare gates.