It’s a place where a century-old oyster bar shares the streetscape with a new-school barbershop for grandpas and hipsters alike. It’s a reimagined neighborhood where fifth-generation denizens mingle with new arrivals, where young entrepreneurs cozy up with regulars at celebrated coffee shops and restaurants, where preserved Victorians proudly stand beside thoughtfully designed new construction. It’s old, it’s new; it’s young, it’s classic; it’s global, it’s local; it’s part of something larger, but distinctly your own.
As an athletic apparel brand, STRIKE MVMNT encourages San Franciscans to lead their best lives. That doesn’t mean just selling armless hoodies and camo trainers, though creating looks that go from the street to the gym are core to its brand. It means explaining that how you dress reflects how you think about yourself, your body and your place in the world.
“We want people to feel more free in their movement,” says Sam Pak, manager of the brand’s first and only U.S. outpost, on Polk Street. “We have a product with a clean and easy aesthetic that doesn’t make you look like you’re going to the moon.”
Skaters, snowboarders and athletes are STRIKE MVMNT’s sweet spot, though the boutique’s open-house vibe draws in window shoppers who end up staying for hours, trying on clothes and shoes, playing on the gymnastics rings or practicing parkour up the walls. “We like our guests to bring the store and the gear to life,” says Pak. “We like to let them have some fun, take some pictures, tell their stories, explain how they move, and then we give them the resources to do what they love.”
Pak and her colleagues don’t just sell clothing. “If you’re a retail space, you need to find ways to generate income. But there are also opportunities to reach out and include people. And that makes a big difference,” she says. She’s befriended Polk Street locals and loves the authentic soul of the neighborhood. “It still feels diverse and funky. The skating, the running, the dancing—the whole movement scene that happens around here—it’s all a great benefit for what we’re trying to do.”
When Carrie and Rupert Blease went looking for a San Francisco neighborhood in which to open a high-concept restaurant, the couple—having moved to town in 2010—found themselves drawn to Lower Polk. “There is still a lot of character and integrity to the neighborhood,” says California native Carrie, who, along with her British husband, has worked the kitchen at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in rural England and cooked at some of New York’s most revered temples of cuisine (he at Per Se, she at Blue Hill). “There are the few places that tend to change hands from time to time, but it is comforting to see many of the same places doing well, that have been here on Polk for years and years.”
The white-on-white restaurant began taking reservations last summer and had instant acclaim, including receiving a coveted Michelin star and a spot on Bon Appetit’s America’s Best New Restaurants list for 2016. “We have made the most of what we have here, and we have done well with it,” Carrie says with much humility.
Local business owners and area residents are regulars, for sure, but Lord Stanley has become a destination dining establishment. They come for the soothing décor that’s straight out of Kinfolk, and inventive clean-cuisine dishes like confit of trout with buerre blanc, and sorrel or onion petals in sherry vinegar. The Bleases consider themselves blessed to have landed in a corner of the city that was ripe for a world-class restaurant. “We feel lucky to be a part of this community and have had a great time getting to know the other businesses in the area,” says Carrie.
Jimmy Sancimino is the second-generation owner of Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco’s most beloved fresh-fish shop. “My father took the business over from the original four brothers, who opened what was called the Cable Oyster Depot in the 1890s, but it was destroyed by fire during the 1906 earthquake,” he recalls. Now he and his three brothers sell more local shellfish and fresh fish than nearly anyone else in town. Surprisingly most of the business is take-out, even though the lines stretch down the block (in true San Francisco style), from opening to closing time, with in-the-know FiDi locals and tourists alike hoping to snag one of the 20 counter seats and some killer clam chowder. “The space is a shoebox, but we love it,” says Sancimino. “We only close once a year for our July 4th-week family vacation.” The next generation of nieces and nephews is already waiting in the wings to take over.
Swan’s success comes from sticking to a formula that works. “We don’t advertise, we only source locally, we never really change,” says the owner. “People like us because we’re normal.” In a world where artisanal and vintage have become marketing terms, Swan doesn’t have to try to be any of that—it is successful and has been for over 100 years.
And Sancimino has kept his business the same as it always was, even as the area around him changed. When he and his brothers grew up on Polk Street, the area was a hangout for the gay community, before the Castro became the unofficial beating heart of the scene. After that, there was always a bit of urban grit, says Sancimino, but that’s just how he likes it. “Polk Street has always been a mecca for a lot of different stuff,” he says. “Here we are in a beautiful neighborhood, with incredible shops. There is Cheese Plus, which sells 400 different cheeses, and then you have the really cool Grubstake right there. There’s a lot going on here.” The Sancimino family has kept Swan in the family because they are fortunate to have fun and make money at the same time. “It’s a blessing that we’ve been lucky enough to have.”