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    Local Businesses Persevere Despite Pandemic, Crime, and Chainstores

    By Robert Holgate and Jennifer Kroot–

    Hayes Valley is one of the last independent shopping neighborhoods in San Francisco. The uniqueness, vibrance, and charm of Hayes Valley is largely due to its restriction on formula retail (aka chain stores). The iconic neighborhood draws tourists and locals alike for shopping, eating, and hanging out.

    Sadly, the pandemic has caused several independent stores that defined the neighborhood to close, including Dish Boutique, Ver Unica, and Gimme Shoes. 

    Similar to other retail neighborhoods, Hayes Street feels post-apocalyptic these days, with few stores open, many empty and boarded up to protect themselves from the incessant break-ins and vandalism that have plagued the area since the lockdown began. 

    As supporters of unique, local businesses, we decided to check in with some of our favorite shops: Modern Appealing Clothing (MAC), Alla Prima Lingerie & Swim, and Metier. All of these shops are women and/or LGBTQ owned.

    MAC is a family business that opened in 1980 on Post Street. They’ve been in Hayes Valley since 2002. Sister and brother Chris and Ben Ospital started the store with their mother, Jeri (now 92). According to Ben, “MAC offers clothing from new, emerging, local and international designers.” Ben describes MAC’s values: “We vet all labor and environmental impact of everything we buy. We always have the contact info for every vendor, to insure fairness and equity.” Ben affirms the pandemic has only reinforced their “commitment to small companies, and we all hold hands together to continue. It’s a struggle.”

    MAC has deep roots in San Francisco and a passion for Hayes Valley. Ben observes, “The neighborhood is the neighbors.” In pre-pandemic times, MAC hosted art shows, soirées, and creative, sometimes political, antics. Their current community-based labor of love is a collaboration with the legendary LGBTQ nightclub The Stud.

    MAC Owners (left-right) Ben Ospital and Chris Ospital, Photo by Will Zang

    At only 250 square feet, Metier is a tiny jewel box of a jewelry store. Sheri Evans and Trina Papini are newer to Hayes Valley, opening in 2014. However, originally Metier opened in 1991 downtown “as a coveted clothing and jewelry store,” describes Trina, who worked for Sheri at the first store. In 2012 they lost their lease, then reopened as partners in Hayes Valley.

    “My biggest struggle is ‘the juggle,’” Trina explains. “My husband is an essential healthcare worker, so I’m either at the store, or moonlighting as a teacher for our kids, ages 10 and 12—not my best hat.” Pre-pandemic, Metier had two full-time employees and one part-time. Trina and Sheri now share all responsibilities, which Sheris calls, “an enormous amount of work, because it is two stores, online and brick and mortar.” In addition, their shop is so small that they can only allow one customer in at a time, or two from the same pod. Trina speaks fondly of the old days: “Our clients and employees were happily shoved in the shop like sardines.” She misses working with customers face to face. “With minimal, shelter-in-place foot traffic and the door locked for our safety, we’re mostly online.”

    Alla Prima is owned by two women (a married couple), Magie Crystal and Yolaida Duran. They pride themselves on their feminist philosophy of “creating a safe and respectful environment in which all women can feel empowered by the many forms of beauty.” They sell cutting edge, European lingerie and swimwear.

    Sadly, Alla Prima was robbed the day that our conversation was scheduled.  And the owners have been busy picking up the pieces since then.  Sheri describes what happened: “The front window was smashed and merchandise stolen.” She sighs, “They’ve worked so hard to be open during the pandemic, following all the rules, and now this.” Ben was heartbroken by the news. “I know how much of their lives go into that store,” he says. “All our shops hurt when one is vandalized. Our city leaders must make it a priority to keep the community safe and thriving.”

    If worrying about crime isn’t enough, small merchants are also concerned by murmurings that commercial realtors wish to leverage the pandemic to allow chain stores into Hayes Valley, in an opportunist attempt to profit from the pandemic. An SF Business Times article from September 2020 featured a prominent commercial realtor describing hopes of ending Hayes Valley’s chain ban. One merchant mentioned frequent sightings of commercial realtors scoping out suffering stores like vultures around a dying carcass. 

    Ben asserts, “The fantastic thing about Hayes Valley is that it continues to be a draw for the never-before, excitement of interesting, independent stores and small restaurants. Formula retail offers nothing but higher rents for the small companies, which endangers our very existence.”

    Trina adds, “We’re a true mom and pop—well, mom and mom shop. Many newer Hayes businesses are smaller chains that found loopholes to get footing here. It’ll be a sad day when unique is replaced by cookie cutter.”

    Nonetheless, the merchants are optimistic for 2021. Trina is “hopeful but wary.” Ben declares, “Our hope is for a return to the creative renaissance that has always been the hallmark and draw of San Francisco.” He reveals MAC’s newest project. Designers will create garments inspired by The Stud, and proceeds will go to The Stud, which Ben notes, “is a landmark that’s being threatened. This collaboration is a creative and political push to continue to embrace queerness—in all senses of the word—in San Francisco.”

    More about these local, independent stores at:

    Jennifer Kroot is a filmmaker, known for her award-winning LGBTQ themed documentaries, including “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” and “To Be Takei.” She studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she has also taught. She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    A humanitarian, as well as a designer, Robert Holgate is dedicated to critical social issues. With his hands-on approach to philanthropy and social justice, he supports the advancement of local and national social causes. For more information:

    Published on February 11, 2021