Walking along Sunset Boulevard, you can spot tents beginning to line 37th Avenue each Sunday morning. Set in front of St. Ignatius High School and the east end of A.P. Giannini, the merchants’ stands—which offer items ranging from baked goods to organic fruit to clothing pieces—stir to life.
In the rolling fog of a San Francisco morning, steady streams of adults and children follow the sidewalk until they enter a three-block-wide showcase of music, food and art. Attracting shoppers of every age, background and taste, the Outer Sunset Farmers Market and Mercantile sets the stage each Sunday for neighbors and community members to safely explore their neighborhood.
Popping up at the beginning of a pandemic-filled summer, the market has already impacted the Outer Sunset community.
“I think this is one of the best things that’s happened to the Outer Sunset,” Herb Mintz, a patron who discovered the market shortly after it opened, said. A former radio host and journalist for the California School Employees Association, Mintz began exploring the market with his wife, Jamilah Din, and friends. He found it the right place “to get together and…support the small businesses that we rely on.”
Rita Goldberger, Mintz’s friend and regular shopper, introduced Mintz and Din to the market. In the rows upon rows of pop-up tents, she said she finds “a real sense of community,…where people are from all over the country and all over the world.” She added, “I feel that there’s a sense of unity.” Her wife, Nancy Lewis, noted that her favorite part of the market was Rodriguez strawberries, hand-picked and locally farmed.
“They’re wonderful farmers down from the South Bay; I think this is amazing group of artists and farmers,” she said.
Thriving in the Outer Sunset district, the street market presents a slice of life: Guitars and handheld drums of the five-member band Colorblind Dilemma create an active yet relaxed atmosphere. Beyond first glance, the stories of the people running the booths, beyond first glance, reveal true diversity.
Quanisha Johnson, owner of bakery Yes’Pudding, relies on the market to engage with her community. On Sundays, she wakes up at 5:45 a.m. to bake puddings for her stand. The time she spends at her booth, she said, also supports her business cooking meals for senior centers in and near San Francisco seven days per week. The ability to talk with people in her community “has been a lifesaver,” Johnson said.
Recounting the loss of in-person connection with her elderly mother during the pandemic, she smiled with the knowledge that she could directly impact the lives of seniors as more people have learned about the market.
At Bear Flag Bakery, Greg Harmon displays his handmade classic San Francisco sourdough breads, many of which are scored with designs and symbols, from sunsets to sand dollars. Looking out to the customers, he says the market is “just very San Francisco, with Asians, European Americans, everyone. It’s really a nice cross-section of San Francisco.”
The Hummus Guy, selling locally-sourced hummus and baklava, grew its business grew as soon as it entered 37th Avenue, even through COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the owners at Baby&Boy infuse their Filipino heritage into their sweet treats. Owner Bettina Yap said she loves to “inject [her] own creativity and…homegrown recipes” into the food she prepares for the market.
Carts offering fresh falafel and rotisserie chicken immediately attract the noses of children and parents, who stop by and eat their lunches on the steps of St. Ignatius or bring home their next dinner.
At the onset of the pandemic, many were left with few options to see friends and fellow community members in a safe environment. Working with COVID-19 guidelines, the street market revived the community, and today masked shoppers browse through almost 70 unique small businesses every week.
Initially stretching just one block, the Outer Sunset market plans to continue in the neighborhood. Angie Pettit-Taylor, who leads the Sunset Mercantile, takes a community-driven approach to the outdoor gathering place.
“We started off with just a small handful of farmers, and a few makers and merchants,” she said. “And then…as more community members were coming out, it just grew organically.”
Pettit-Taylor and her team of organizers realized the need to expand, leading to the Sunset Wellness Mercantile, a program in which small businesses, schools and community groups use a block on 37th Avenue for outdoor activities, such as dance and martial arts classes and an outdoor senior center, throughout the week.
“The need for community space in urban environments is always needed. What we’re trying to do…is create not just a place for commerce, but a place for the community,” Pettit-Taylor shared.
Like many others, Mintz savors the chance to buy organic strawberries and fruit with his family and friends. And for next Sunday, Lewis has her eyes out for the freshly farmed mushrooms.
Jack Quach is a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory and an editor at the school paper, Inside SI. This piece was originally published in Inside SI.