VacationSF Brings 1970’s Mission District Vibe to Tenderloin

by Randy Shaw, 2013-01-16

In the heart of the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon district on Larkin Street is one of the most creative and idealistic ventures in all of San Francisco: VacationSF, a curated vintage clothing store that also sells locally made art and jewelry and holds free music concerts by such prominent local artists as Ty Segall in its basement. VacationSF is the vision of Kristin Klein, who moved to San Francisco in 2009 from Atlanta and wanted to both live and open her business in the Tenderloin. Klein felt that stores like hers were “oversaturated in the Mission,” and saw the Tenderloin as having “great potential for those seeking affordable storefronts.” With her free concerts and art shows in a space also selling vintage clothing and vinyl records, Klein is more a throwback to the Mission of the 1970’s---and a sign of what creative business people can accomplish in the Tenderloin if they give the community a chance.

Walking by the restaurant row of Mangosteen, Bodega Bistro, Red Crawfish, Lee’s Sandwiches and Turtle Tower between Eddy and Ellis in the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon district, one suddenly comes across a vintage clothing store that looks like it arrived in a time machine from the Mission District of the 1970’s. Located adjacent to the future new home of Turtle Tower, VacationSF at 651 Larkin is an example for the creativity that can emerge when an innovative Tenderloin resident decides to open up a business in their own neighborhood rather than in more upscale surroundings.

Proprietor Kristin Klein “loves the Tenderloin,” and since opening her store last June has found many positives about the neighborhood that others overlook. Klein sees the Tenderloin as “more of an anything goes neighborhood than the Mission,” a feeling that enables her free music shows to attract between 100-200 people without complaints.

Klein’s ties to the San Francisco music scene have allowed her venue to attract Ty Segall, who recently played on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. She also featured the band Diiv, which played a sold out Great American Music Hall concert while playing at VacationSF for free.

Klein’s low-cost business model is a throwback to the city’s punk ethos of the 1970’s and early 1980’s, though I do not recall many free events in private businesses during those days.

Klein’s business depends on the sale of curated and designer vintage clothing, and locally made and vintage handmade jewelry. She sells these goods globally through the Internet, and uses Instagram to “post pictures of clothing all day long.”

Klein’s art openings also attract crowds, and the works are regularly displayed for sale. At a time when DIY venues are largely gone in San Francisco, VacationSF may be the start of their renewal.

Will Klein’s success spur others to give the Tenderloin a chance? There are other vacant commercial spaces on the increasingly popular Little Saigon area, so people seeking to run a creative business who are priced out of the Mission or Haight should check it out.

To learn about VacationSF’s upcoming concerts and art openings, visit http://vacation-sf.com/

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.