Subpar Is Leaving Alameda
Subpar Miniature Golf owner Mike Taft expected to expand his popular business at Alameda’s South Shore Center. Instead, he’s leaving the city entirely.
Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh
About six years ago, Michael Taft opened his miniature golf business on Park Street. Subpar Miniature Golf became quite popular, and last year the store was even featured on national TV when Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry visited it for a segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden. Taft wanted to grow his business while still remaining in Alameda, so he signed a lease for a new, larger space at South Shore Center. Meanwhile, he had also started work on an expansion into San Francisco.
But after months of negotiations, Taft announced via Facebook in May that Subpar Miniature Golf would be closing in Alameda in November. The reason, he said, was an unusual term in the lease for some of the large anchor tenants in South Shore Center that allowed them to veto any entertainment-based business seeking to move in.
Taft said most of the tenants welcomed his arrival — except for discount clothing store Ross Dress For Less, which blocked Subpar from moving into the space. Now, Taft says he’ll be leaving Alameda altogether.
Taft said he hasn’t heard a word of explanation about why Ross prevented Subpar from moving into South Shore Center. At one point, his lawyer reached out to the company to try to convince Ross that Subpar would not cause any problems and, in fact, could help draw more business to Ross as a family-friendly entertainment destination. But he received only a brief response from Ross instructing him to only communicate with the company that owns the property, Jamestown, Taft said.
Ross did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement provided to the magazine, a representative for Jamestown, which also owns the Ghirardelli Square location in San Francisco where Subpar is opening another location, wrote, “We are unable to comment publicly regarding lease negotiations at Alameda South Shore Center. We do, however, share the community’s enthusiasm for Subpar Miniature Golf, and we look forward to welcoming them at our sister property, Ghirardelli Square, this summer.”
Taft, who lives in Oakland near Alameda, opened Subpar on Park Street in August 2012. It quickly grew into a place that many people love and visit regularly and now offers much more than mini golf, with an arcade, slot car racing, and pool tables as well. Taft wanted to further expand its amenities at the South Shore Center location.
With business booming, Taft decided to expand his business in San Francisco, but always intended to maintain a presence in Alameda, he said. He signed a lease to expand into a new location in Ghirardelli Square last summer. At the same time, he decided to leave his Park Street location and started scouting for a place to move in Alameda.
Jamestown was excited for Subpar to move in to South Shore Center. Taft signed a lease for the space in October.
But according to Taft, some of the long-term anchor tenants at South Shore Center that predate Jamestown buying the property had an unusual addition to their lease: They’re required to give their consent to any entertainment-based business wanting to move in. That means that any new business would need to get the approval of each individual anchor tenant.
“Every other anchor store signed off on us, said nice things to us, were excited to have us,” Taft said. “Ross was the only one who held out.”
Taft’s attorney drafted a letter to Ross pleading Subpar’s case. Taft said it argued that Subpar would be beneficial to the area, would not cause Ross any trouble such as by affecting its parking, and in fact could bring new business to the plaza since Subpar had a loyal following, potentially offering a place for parents to drop their children while shopping.
Ross, however, returned a very “succinct” response, Taft said. Ross’ attorneys advised Taft that they had no legal relationship, that the issue was between Ross and Jamestown, and that Subpar should not contact Ross again. “They didn’t give us any reason or explanation whatsoever,” Taft said.
He added that representatives from Jamestown, who were communicating with Ross over the issue, told him they couldn’t provide any further context because negotiations were private. The uncertainty went on for months, but finally there came a point that Subpar would need to start building out its space to move in on time. Without knowing if Subpar would be able to move in at all, it didn’t make sense to start construction, Taft said.
“It became clear they weren’t going to budge and we announced the closing,” he said.
On May 8, Taft posted an announcement on Facebook that Subpar would be leaving Alameda, calling out Ross as the reason that the mini golf business couldn’t move into South Shore Center and directing readers to Ross’ Twitter account, though the company hasn’t tweeted since 2016.
“Months later, despite sustained pressure, Ross Dress For Less (Twitter @Ross_Stores) would not bend, and so we have had to cancel our plans to open what would have been an amazing golf course, arcade, and slot car track at South Shore Center,” Taft wrote.
The Facebook post was shared hundreds of times and drew 233 comments by early June. Outraged customers considered organizing a boycott of Ross, picketing outside, and reported calling the store manager and corporate headquarters to complain. But despite the public pressure, Ross has not come forward with any explanation for preventing Subpar from moving into the new location. (Although a Ross spokesperson told the Bay Area News Group that the store “is committed to remaining in compliance with a contract we’ve had for nearly 30 years in the South Shore Center.”) For his part, Taft said that his intent in releasing the statement was not to start any action against Ross and that he is not advocating a boycott, citing the store’s employees.
“Those folks have jobs that don’t deserve to be impacted by this,” he said.
Subpar’s lease on Park Street doesn’t expire until Nov. 19, and its location in Ghirardelli Square will open on June 8, so Subpar will very briefly operate in two locations. After that, Subpar will leave Alameda.
“It feels awful. We owe our entire existence to our loyal customers,” Taft said. “Alameda will always be where we got our start, where our home is. It will be sad to not be able to say, ‘There’s our flagship store in Alameda.’”