San Francisco Examiner Article: “Putting on the Swank” APRIL 18, 2010BY: by SAMUEL F. LEWIS
From the Cover of the Chronicle’s
Where Style + Street Meet
Divisadero Corridor -bohemian chic
Long known as a gritty stretch of seedy dive bars, failed businesses and low-income housing, Divisadero Street has functioned primarily as a multicultural thoroughfare from Market Street to the Marina, rather than a destination in itself. Recently, however, the section between Haight and McAllister streets, commonly known as the Divisadero Corridor, has seen an influx of vibrant, independently owned boutiques, galleries and bars, along with restaurants like bustling Nopa, which have illuminated an often neglected area.
While some stores are north of Fell and the Panhandle and therefore technically in the area known as NoPa, others are decidedly south and aren’t – though it’s a subject of fierce debate.
The corridor retains its bohemian flavor – purple hair and piercings still abound – even with a weekly farmers’ market and popular quarterly art walk designed to get people out into the neighborhood at night. A $3.4 million revitalization plan is also under way between Waller Street and Geary Boulevard to make the street safer and more inviting with bus stop improvements, wider medians planted with trees and upgraded lighting fixtures.
As the corridor undergoes its physical renaissance, an eclectic mix of merchants continues to proffer its own idea of regeneration, transforming bits and bobs of jettisoned history into wares you can wear and live with.
Swankety Swank Proprietor: Yabette Alfaro
Backstory: After moving to San Francisco from Ohio to get into the music scene, Alfaro began to explore how she could “think globally, act locally.” With the help of her husband, Alex, she salvaged and refurbished old furniture and sold it on Craigslist. In March, they changed their business into a co-op.
Vibe: Creamy wainscoting that meets shimmery gold walls, blond wood floors and high ceilings give this store an airy feeling.
The goods: Handmade by 60 local talents. Look for labels like Gibbous, where the designers create original garments from found, recycled and historic materials, and Sea Pony, whose black-and-white bubble dress with open back and bow ($122) would not look out of place at a Presidio Heights cocktail party. Alfaro creates her own clothing from vintage fabrics and recycled thrift store finds, and paints her whimsical furniture with octopuses and peacocks.
Clientele: Those with an intelligent intention behind every dollar spent.
Must-have: Bloomers ($25-$55).
The 415: 289 Divisadero St.; (415) 932-6615. http://www.swanketyswank.com.
Optimism: A beacon of hope for 2009 economy
from The Western Addition in San Francisco January 30th, 2009
With the effects of the nation’s current economic turmoil becoming the foundation of consumer consciousness, it is easy to believe that Americans are facing an economic depression – one that puts a damper on shoppers’ spirits, as well as their pocketbooks.
No matter how difficult times may have been in the past year, San Francisco merchants remain refreshingly optimistic as to how the economy will fare in 2009. Some storeowners in the Western Addition admitted to having felt the harsh blow of the recession, however, there are those who experienced their best financial year ever in 2008. Some worked with the same clientele, while others completely expanded their customer base and even gained fans from overseas.
One such merchant is Yabette Alfaro, the owner of Swankety Swank, a charming Western Addition gallery boutique that specializes in unique, handcrafted furniture, art and jewelry. Alfaro said business was predictable throughout the spring and summer of 2008 before it suffered a dry spell in the fall that was almost fatal to her store.
“In October, I thought we were going to go out of business,” Alfaro said. “But things have changed since the [presidential] election in a positive way. This past Christmas, we made double the revenue than we did last year. I thought the economy would hurt us more than it did.”
Alfaro said she is hopeful about the future and that her store’s rebound may be due to the fact that Swankety Swank is known for exclusive art furniture recreated by Alfaro and her husband.
“We’re filling the niche between the thrift store furniture that nobody wants to buy as-is, and the more expensive Pottery Barn pieces,” she said. “Our furniture is of a better quality than one might find at IKEA, but it is sold at the same prices.”
Alfaro said finding the right location for this type of shop is also important.
“In my personal experience, I find that San Francisco is a special bubble of economics,” she said. “San Franciscans support local businesses, which is why I think things will be good for us in the next year.”
The fact that local merchants have the ability to quickly respond to financial obstacles is extremely beneficial, as is the case with Rena Tom, co-owner of Rare Device, located in Hayes Valley.
Praised for its array of stylish belts and handbags and one-of-a-kind home decor, Rare Device is committed to supplying its clientele with fresh — but not overly trendy — pieces that, as Tom said, “will last forever.” To address the possibility of decreased revenue due to the economic recession, Tom and her co-owner, Lisa Congdon, changed the way they marketed their products.
“We’ve changed our buying strategies and we might have to pull back on where we buy things,” said Tom. “We’re looking for more items on the lower end so that everyone can walk out with a great gift.”
In terms of how she thinks her store will fare in the near future, Tom said she is relying on monumental political events to cause an upsurge in positive consumer energy.
“Even though we’ve seen a bit of a slow-down, we’re hopeful that people are not in despair right now and we think that after the Presidential Inauguration, people will have their spirits restored,” she said.
Not every merchant has experienced the dark days of the current economic crisis. In fact, some even venture to call 2008 their “best year ever,” in terms of product revenue.
Just ask the lively James Sime, proprietor of Isotope Comics, which is known for its periodical comics and graphic novels.
“The recession benefitted my business tremendously,” Sime said. “Because the comic industry has a bit of international recognition, I began to see a lot more foreign customers once the American dollar leveled out with Canadian and Scandinavian money.”
Much like Alfaro, Sime considers his store’s location – in the Lower Haight – when asked about the foot traffic he received during the holidays.
“I think San Franciscans shopped less at commercial places like Target or the mall and decided to spend their money at local shops for Christmas,” he said. “I think that in tough times, people begin to spend money on things that make them happy.
“Any place that gives an experience of joy when you walk in the door … I think places like that will do just fine.”
Swankety Swank in Bohomag.
Think globally, shop locally
North Panhandle News, September/October 2007
In an age where much is disposable,
new, shiny, and cheap, Swankety
Swank, located at 1808 McAllister at Baker, offers a new take on consumer culture. Since April 2007, owner Yabette Alfaro has featured “conscious consumer commodities” in her charming boutique. All items are handmade, independently produced, or recycled; most are created by local artists and craftsmen. The store is filled with stained glass, intricately painted vintage furniture, handmade cloth bags, and hanging art, much of which is decorated with political messages. In one corner Yabette often sits with her sewing machine, piecing together an item to be displayed in the store. She started painting furniture while staying at home with her young son. “I wanted nicer things for our apartment and we couldn’t afford much,” she explains. So she started creating her own pieces for her home and later selling them on Craigslist. Although, as she points out, “I was trained as a musician and didn’t have a background in art,” her furniture pieces old so nicely that her husband decided they needed to get a ground floor apartment. “He was tired of hauling furniture up and down the stairs,” she laughs. Their search for the perfect spot led them to their current location, a live/workspace. “It was a magical place to find,” claims Yabette. Now that the little store is filled with usable works of art, one can see what she means when she states, “I love transformation—to take an old, beatup thing and make it beautiful; to revive in it the beauty that may have existed before.” Yabette and her friend Laura Chenault work together to make many of the pieces in the store. Ms. Chenault creates the handmade books that line many of its shelves. She also creates the politically charged hanging art and baby onesies. Yabette’s husband, Alex Alfaro, is also involved in the business. “He does a lot of the grunt work,” Yabette admits. “He repairs and sands the furniture; moves heavy things.” Swankety Swank is such a family affair that even Yabette’s parents have a hand in it: They arrived before the grand opening to help build the display platform in the store’s front window. Yabette showcases a particular theme of artwork in that window each month. On July 27, “The Goddess Show,” focusing on women-centered artists and/or themes, took center stage. Before that, “The Glass Show” featured works by stained glass artists, blown glass pendants, paperweights, and paintings on glass. Stop by to chat with Yabette and explore the current show!
by Leigh Culpepper, CMT (www.balancex.com) is the owner of Culpepper Bodywork, which specializes in pregnancy massage.