Every time I walk up to the Lower Haight, my heart hurts a little. Tucked away on Haight and Fillmore used to be my home — the only place in San Francisco I felt safe. It was the Empire Records-like atmosphere of D-Structure Clothing Company (DSF).
As of May of this year, they had to abandon their store and move everything online. No more art shows, no more PBR shotguns, no more community. I never truly felt the gentrification of this city affected my heart until my favorite place in the world shut down.
I first became acquainted with DSF from an open position on Craigslist. The post read, “Tell me why you want work here, why you are weird and what blogs you read.” I thought to myself, “I am definitely weird,” so I wrote a fabulous cover letter and got an interview.
I had just moved here from Tel Aviv and had no friends in town. I had a job in tech, but I didn’t have a huge team and they were all dudes. So I thought, maybe I would get a retail job somewhere and meet other people. This place that ended up accepting me into their work family.
The Lower Haight was full of eclectic people. It felt like everything was in balance. The bars knew our names and we always had somewhere to go if we were having a bad day. We even served whiskey on Friday, although that got shut down because we didn’t have a liquor license. We threw art parties on the weekend, and rolled into work the next morning to our boss Devon handing us an egg sandwich and a cup of coffee.
It is clear why I am so heartbroken. But even more is how these types of hubs foster creativity and serve as a jumping off point for employees’ careers. Ex-employees now work as professional photographers, musicians, artists at Pixar, teachers at Workshop SF, DJs, tattoo artists and of course, writers. I have not yet found that level of support in any women’s group, meetup or job.
Creative places may not be high rises, but they sure as hell help foster excellence in the people who are a part of them. It isn’t just DSF that lost its culture, it’s also Lost Weekend Video where I went to see comedy shows and Viracocha for underground music. Up and coming is the gratuitous champagne bar to replace the Momi Tobi’s Revolution Cafe & Art Bar in Hayes. Sometimes all I want is a cheap cup of coffee.
It seems like this story has been told all over the country. It’s just that here, we are actually losing our identity. I know a lot of people who moved here for the eccentricities of San Francisco. The weird fog, the learned people and the awesome food. People moved here for the culture. But with the rise of gentrification in the most artistic places, there is no longer as much room for creative excellence.
Even more interesting is how the general populace view these changes. When people hear I live in Hayes Valley, they go, “Oh, I love Hayes Valley!” Well, kids, Hayes Valley used to be a freeway exit that emptied onto Fell Street. It is adjacent to the TL, and it is pretty obvious once the lights go out. Due to this half-assed gentrification effort, I live in the Bermuda triangle of San Francisco where people drive 50-60 mph on these “residential” streets to get to the freeway and I can’t get an Uber to pick me up in the right place. I don’t blame them, but it makes the whole of Hayes Valley not so glamorous to live in.
One of my favorite artists in The City has a studio inside of another company’s studio, sharing his space with two other businesses in a not-so-good neighborhood. Yet, it is the only place he can truly let himself create. Pretty soon, his lofted studio will become someone’s apartment. He’ll be gone, along with his outrageously beautiful pieces of art.
All of this begs the question: What came first, businesses closing or creative people leaving San Francisco? It seems like people are leaving for the same reason why the small venues are closing — the rent and cost of living is astronomical. As more and more creatives leave, it may cause these places to close. It is really all about money.
Unfortunately, economics is such a powerful force that these awesome places may not be able to survive. Superior service, great products, atmosphere, as well as a compelling value proposition has to win out. In that way, these very cool places that are no longer around, are really not much different than a tech start-up. The customer ultimately chooses what lives and what dies.
With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.