Business Briefing: Holiday gift buying off Castro's beaten paths

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 7, 2022
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The gift shop at the GLBT Historical Society Museum has many items for sale that would make great holiday presents. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko
The gift shop at the GLBT Historical Society Museum has many items for sale that would make great holiday presents. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko

Oftentimes veering off the beaten path bears fruit. So is the case for holiday shoppers who venture to San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro district for their gift buying needs this yuletide.

Stores like Stag & Manor on the 2300 block of Market Street and Cliff's Variety on the 400 block of Castro Street are both a draw this time of year and are easily located on the neighborhood's two main commercial corridors. Another destination is the cluster of shops on the block of 18th Street between Castro and Collingwood streets.

There present purchasers can pop into the GLBT Historical Society Museum (4127 18th Street) to peruse its small but stocked gift shop for unique LGBTQ-themed items. (Shoppers, as well as museum visitors, just need to show proof of vaccination to the attendant on hand.)

Stocking stuffers on sale include a variety of postcards and enamel pins, such as ones that indicate a person's pronouns ($11.95), with 10% of the proceeds going to LGBTQ nonprofits. There are also stainless steel water bottles ($24) with the tagline "Come Find Your Story."

Among the various books on sale are unique coloring books with a queer twist ($15) from Stacked Deck Press. Featured in "The Queer Heroes Coloring Book," edited by Jon Marcy and Tara Madison Avery, are such LGBTQ luminaries as actor Ian McKellen, the late artist Keith Haring, and the late science fiction writer Joanna Russ. "The Butch Lesbians of the 20s, 30s, and 40s Coloring Book," edited by Macy and Avery Cassell, includes blues singer Gladys Bentley, and writers Willa Cather and Gertrude Stein.

Also for sale are several T-shirts ($26), such as a red one sporting "No Apologies" and depicting a scene from the May 21, 1979 White Night riots that followed the lenient verdict for the killer of the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and progressive mayor George Moscone. There is also a tee with Milk's campaign slogan "Harvey Milk for Supervisor."

On the museum's website can be purchased gift memberships allowing yearlong access to the cultural institution. A sustaining membership level ($250) will provide the person with free admission to more than 1,000 partner museums throughout North and South America.

A few doors away at the adult gift store Does Your Mother Know (4141 18th Street), various gifts can be found of both a sexual nature and more traditional in tone. It carries a wide array of Pride flags, from the rainbow design to ones for various communities such as the transgender and bisexual versions, that range in price by size ($8.99 to $46.99).

Doggie bandanas are featured at Does Your Mother Know. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

The shop also has a large collection of bandanas in different colors ($3.99 or two for $6.99). A chart on the wall next to them explains the meaning behind each color based on the hanky code, used by queer men in the 1970s and 1980s to signal their sexual proclivities. Also for sale are an entirely different set of bandanas, Doggie Dannas, that come in various designs to provide some colorful neckwear for canines.

It also carries the "Castro Boy" T-shirt ($25) designed by local gay artist Dimas Jose Arellano, who was profiled in last month's Business Briefing column. The black tees feature the word "Castro" written out in big pink bubble letters with "Boy!" in smaller type underneath the letter "o." A rainbow arcs above from the letter "a" to the letter "o."

Another gay neighborhood artist's work is featured on the walls throughout the store, that of Smiley and his Poppy, the Popper character. Smiley, whose given name is Allan Avila, decided to put his used poppers bottles to use and turned them into a character, for which he secured a trademark several years ago.

"I wanted to invent a character based on the Castro," explained Avila, whose boyfriend happens to be a manager at the store.

In early 2020 the shop began featuring his artworks, with four to five being sold each month. The pieces range in price based on the size of the canvas and how much time it took to create them ($70 to as much as $450). A special piece created for the season is now for sale, Poppy the Popper Christmas clock ($69).

"It is not a painting. It used to be a clock, and I put Poppy there," said Avila.

Across the street neighborhood gift shop Local Take relocated from its former storefront off Jane Warner Plaza on 17th Street to a more spacious location at 4122 18th Street. Years ago the retail space was the first location for the men's health clinic Magnet.

It carries everything from artwork and dishware to soaps and tees. Also on its shelves are various gift items created by SF Mercantile, which works with local artists to come up with unique products inspired by the city and Bay Area.

Thus, it has several items featuring its character take on Karl the Fog, such as a plush pillow ($20) of the weather pattern hugging one of the Golden Gate Bridge's towers. The same design can be found on tees ($30) and a trucker hat ($22).

Christmas decorations such as throw pillows with either a reindeer ($34) or gingerbread character design ($36) are for sale. They can also be bought as plush tree ornaments ($20).

The store also carries a large selection of baby onesies ($26) with myriad motifs, most of which inspired by an iconic Bay Area structure. Thus, dinosaurs and unicorns can be found on the span of the Golden Gate Bridge.

With the closure this year of gift store Kenneth Wingard on the 2300 block of Market Street, those who loved its broad adult tee collection will be glad to know Local Take is filling that void. It carries a wide assortment of adult T-shirts with different designs.

A moss ornament featuring Sutro Tower on Twin Peaks is available at Local Take. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Also stocked are various handmade crafts from Oakland-based Bernal Burrow. DIY moss artwork kits ($38) provide a fun project to do at home, while premade moss ornaments ($35) feature Sutro Tower on Twin Peaks against a multi-colored moss background.

Fun stocking stuffers for sale are small batches of soaps ($12) made by Roman Ruby Botanicals based in Portland, Oregon. It created a special Castro soap that is a hot pink glycerin bar made with organic pink grapefruit and poppy seeds.

A few doors away at Bottle Bacchanal (4126 18th Street), wines made by LGBTQ+ people and members of other marginalized groups are featured for sale by the bottle. The shop also creates special curated gift boxes ($130) that can be ordered via its website.

Even further afield from the heart of the Castro is Kokak Chocolates (3901 18th Street), where special holiday concoctions are on sale this holiday season. It's Merry Holiday Tree Tradition ($57.95) stands six inches and provides an edible chocolate table centerpiece that comes with its own mallet for dinner guests to use to smash into it for a tasty post (or pre-) meal treat.

Or there is the five-piece Cosmic Dark Chocolate Robots ($22.95) made from a mold inspired by the classic childhood toy. Always for sale are the shop's artisanal truffles and dark chocolates in various flavors.

Kokak owner Carol Gancia has canceled her planned second store in the city's Japantown due to zoning issues. But her treats can be ordered online for nationwide shipping here.

A fun day to set aside for Castro gift shopping this year will be Sunday, December 18, when the Castro Merchants Association hosts its "Winter Wonderland" block party on Noe Street between Market and Beaver streets. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. attendees will find kids activities, a petting zoo and holiday art mart, drag queen performances and storytime, plus free photos with Santa.

At 4 p.m. will be the Sexy Elf contest for kids of all ages. The winner takes home a $500 cash prize.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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