San Francisco often doesn’t feel like a city that embraces kids — we may love our dogs more than babies. So when I learned the kids’ clothing boutique Bubble (3108 Fillmore Street) was celebrating its 10th anniversary, I thought it deserved some attention.
As many parents can relate, when Marina Levy had her daughter 13 years ago, she realized her current career path and schedule just didn’t work. As a nutrition supervisor for the school district, her hours didn’t provide enough flexibility. So she began researching starting a business, though she wasn’t sure what kind of business she wanted to get into. “Technology was booming — everything was tech,” said Levy. “And I’m not tech. But I’m a shopper!”
With a new baby, Levy realized that San Francisco was missing a lot of “fun fashion” for kids. “San Francisco is a Marc Jacobs-y town,” she said. “There’s a lot of plaid and uni-tone, but no sparkle or print.” Levy saw her friends in L.A. had access to the fun fashion — their kids were wearing bright colors with prints of stars and hearts and butterflies. So Levy decided to open a boutique and bring that to San Francisco.
THE PERFECT LOCATION
Zeroing in on the Marina-Cow Hollow neighborhood, the hunt for a storefront began. She scouted nearly every street in the neighborhood, analyzing shoppers’ habits. “I watched them on hot days, cold days, rainy days, windy days,” said Levy. “I watched from 11 o’clock in the morning to dinnertime. How many people were walking? Were they shopping? How many bags were they carrying?”
Six months later, Levy found a spot on the Fillmore corridor between Union and Lombard. “It felt like a diamond in the rough,” she said. “It’s easier to park, but you still get a lot of foot traffic.” She opened Bubble in August 2005.
Levy trusted that moms would like what she stocked, and that they would be willing to pay more than Gap prices. And she was right. She opened her door to a line of eagerly waiting customers. “Moms here do a great job outfitting themselves,” said Levy. “I had a feeling they would spend on their kids if it was available to them.”
KEEPING FRESH INVENTORY
Levy’s customers come in regularly because she keeps the inventory fresh — she spaces her deliveries so something new arrives every week. Popular brands include Splendid, Ella Moss, and Joe’s Jeans. But Levy points out that the average customer shops for basics, like tees and onesies. It’s also a popular gift store, where it’s easy to spend just $30—$40.
Over the years there has been a transition to local merchandise. About 20 percent of Bubble’s inventory is geared to a San Francisco theme — tees with prints of the bridge or other landmarks, and books and puzzles. Levy has found that locals are drawn to this stuff even more than tourists. “Whether people live here or visit, everyone loves San Francisco,” said Levy.
Running the business hasn’t always been easy. When the economy took a nosedive, so did Levy’s business. And she’s says she’s still recuperating. But she’s humbled by the support of her customers. “They’ve supported us during our trying times,” said Levy. “They kept coming in, maybe not spending as much, but still spending. I feel very fortunate.”
But if Levy could ask her customers for one more thing, it would be this: a helpful Yelp review. She’s used to her customers e-mailing compliments and dropping off photos of kids in her clothes, but she’s realizing the impact of Yelp. “The one customer who you don’t say ‘hello’ to in the first 30 seconds writes a negative Yelp review,” said Levy. “As a small business, Yelp doesn’t make us, but it can break us. A low grade can deter a customer from coming in.”
Even though Levy’s inspiration behind the store, her now 13-year-old daughter, will soon size out of the clothes she carries, Levy hasn’t lost interest in running a business about kids. “My goal is to grow the store,” she says. “I feel like there’s a lot of potential for growth out there. I’m going to focus on that and raising my three children.”
RENT HIKES AND LANDLORDS
Two long-term Union Street merchants are closing their doors due to landlord issues.
Artisans of San Francisco (1964 Union Street), a custom frame and photograph shop largely known for its historic photos of San Francisco, first opened its doors in 1947. Then-owner Phil Ellin built a loyal clientele by walking up and down Union Street meeting as many people as possible. Since then, ownership has changed twice, with the current owner, Joe Dellert, taking over 17 years ago.
Dellert’s landlord is selling the building and wants the commercial space vacated. With the unaffordable rents on Union Street, Dellert is moving his shop to the Sunset (2549 Irving Street). He feels confident his customers will follow, given “parking is easier,” he joked.
Dellert is also adding a new in-home service to his business. He will meet you in your home to help design a space, hang pictures, and choose artwork. “It helps me get the designing even better when I see the interior of a customer’s home,” he said.
Stop by Artisans of San Francisco on Sept. 19 for a goodbye party.
The Enchanted Crystal (1895 Union Street) shut its door for good on Aug. 31 after being faced with an unaffordable rent hike.
Owners Dennis Beckman and Scoty Butts opened shop more than 40 years ago. They secured a loyal customer following when they started selling rainbow crystals. Beckman reflected how dozens of customers would line up outside their shop at Christmastime to buy the crystals: “They’d never seen them before, and they were gorgeous.”
The two went on to also sell natural quartz crystals and fairy-related items, which also became big hits with their customers. “Most shops are boring, and I wanted to create something that was magical and enchanting,” said Beckman.
While The Enchanted Crystal won’t be reopening, Beckman is looking for a Christmas pop-up-shop location, so stay tuned.