The pandemic emptied storefronts across San Francisco, including the counterculture’s beating heart in the vintage- and thrift-store laden Haight-Ashbury, known internationally for its rainbow-covered aesthetic and quirky retail offerings. With numerous boarded-up shops and neighborhood fixtures signaling doomsday, the Haight in 2020 felt like a ghost town.
The neighborhood has since bounced back with a new wave of boutiques and clothing stores, revitalizing the main commercial corridor at upper Haight Street. Though Haight-Ashbury may be one of San Francisco’s few post-pandemic business success stories, not everyone is happy about how it's changed.
“I don’t go to the Haight anymore, and I’m not a fan of the small shops,” said Mya Taylor, a former employee of Haight Street community space 710 Collective and a longtime thrifter. “There's just like this constant flow of every store alternating their items within each other, but also trying to stay competitive and charging like $40 for a T-shirt.”
Curated vintage and resale boutiques—posh thrift stores in layman’s terms—have cropped up all over the street, luring tourists and thrift-obsessed Gen Zers back. It’s a thriving micro-industry, one that’s largely driven by the enduring trendiness of thrift aesthetics and vintage fashion.
But neighborhood and industry mainstays are concerned these boutiques are overpriced and may not last, following the breakneck trend cycles that have flung crop tops and flare-leg jeans in and right back out of fashion.
Before the pandemic, Haight Street’s frequent shoppers say there were just three main options for thrifting: Held Over Vintage, the Goodwill on Haight and Buffalo Exchange. The street is also home to a handful of pricier vintage and clothing retailers like Piedmont Boutique and Decades of Fashion, often tapped for their unique costume offerings.
Now, a slew of specifically curated resale stores have popped up everywhere. By The Standard’s count, at least seven new vintage, thrift or resale retailers have opened on Haight Street since 2020.
It started with Indigo Vintage Co-Op, a curated upscale clothing store that stocks ‘90s and Y2K fashion. Like a more expensive Buffalo Exchange, the store did what the lazy thrifter always dreams of: It curated trendy items directly for the consumer, doing all the heavy lifting to find, source and sell hip, vintage and upcycled garments. Removing the rack-sifting element puts some thrifters off, but delights others.
Then it was like dominoes as Haight Street became the epicenter for Gen Z’s new curated thrift aesthetic.
“All of a sudden, all these other shops that were sort of going after Indigo’s business model showed up,” Taylor said. “Now there’s like 15 new Indigos. They’re all just feeding each other, and prices are going insane.”
Thrifting has been called the “most Gen Z thing to do,” and its popularity is reflected in the stores and clientele that now populate both Haight Street and online discourse. A fashion search engine reported a 104% spike in online searches for keywords like “vintage fashion,” and the online resale market value in 2022 was worth $77.5 billion.
Popular resale sites like Depop and Thredup largely prop up this online industry. But the cultural effect they’ve had on the fashion world bled into Haight Street, creating a brick-and-mortar manifestation of the resale craze.
“Shops are becoming more aware of, like, ‘OK, this is what this is worth on a Depop site,’” said Chloe Stowell, a sustainable fashion micro-influencer. “The understanding of value from retail sites is shaping how thrift stores are valuing and selling their product.”
The budding thrift, vintage and curated resale industry hasn’t exactly promised better price points or accessibility. Places like Held Over on Haight Street have managed to keep their prices for flannels and dirndls relatively steady, but the newer boutiques can be expensive.
It’s hard to put a price tag on the value of vintage or aesthetic, but curated shops often sell $100 T-shirts alongside cheaper resale options from bargain brands. It’s gotten so bad that internet pundits and locals alike have called the new wave of curated and vintage shopping "gentrified thrifting," questioning if it can even be called "thrift" in the first place.
“The Goodwill there used to be affordable,” Stowell said, referring to the thrift shop located on Haight and Cole streets. “It’s not anymore. I stopped going because it became one of the most expensive Goodwills in the Bay Area. You can’t really get those deals, which is core to thrifting.”
Even as trendy storefronts and consignment stores bring in customers, business might not be as lucrative as it looks for their vendors and creatives.
“Since each of these vendors has a majority of their things spewed all over Haight Street, a handful of them don't do that well,” Taylor said. “I know of a vendor who was paying, like, a thousand in rent, but at the end of the month they only made $700. They still had to pay $300, and they didn't make a check that month.”
Locals said older thrift and retail stores that once supplied Haight-Ashbury’s famous tie-dye tees or affordable workwear have died off, shifting the street’s aesthetic away from psychedelic shirts and incense burners. Included in the list of permanent closures was a family-owned plant shop, Static Vintage, accessory shop Stuf and incense-heavy Haight Street Bazaar.
“It’s pretty cut-throat,” Taylor added. “I just wasn't a fan of the energy that would come into the space daily.” Local San Franciscans like Taylor now say they seek out cheaper, more accessible Goodwills in the suburbs instead.
Nearby retailers, even the ones that existed well before the pandemic, don’t seem to mind their new neighbors, however. Business is business, and store managers say that the influx of shoppers they bring in is welcome after years of pandemic lockdowns.
Some of the new curated shops are starting to stock garments at bigger price ranges to address accessibility concerns. Two-month-old Protocol Vintage is one of those vintage resale stores, primarily stocking casualwear and denim that can cost anywhere from $10 to over $200.
“[The owners] wanted to offer a bigger range of pricing for vintage, because obviously a lot of stores on Haight street are pricey,” said Jade Saldivar, Protocol’s store manager.
And Mel Willis, owner of three resale and vintage boutiques on Haight Street, says that her shop at So-So Supermarket opened with the express purpose of affordability. Mimicking the trendy, youthful vibe of her flagship store at Indigo Co-Op, So-So provides the curated "new wave vintage" model that draws in Gen Z customers but maintains the price tags of a proper thrift shop.
“One of the main reasons why we opened So-So Supermarket is because of price points getting monopolized,” Willis said. “The reason why So-So is actually called that is because we kind of set the expectation that it is ‘so-so,’ like the clothes are average and it's not anything crazy. It's definitely more on the lower end.”
Willis says younger customers have flocked to her stores precisely because she stocks niche, quirky and unique garments that resonate with authenticity and identity-obsessed Gen Z-ers. And the popularity of these retailers also signifies an important value shift in young buyers, who now want to participate in “slow fashion” and reuse garments to avoid clothing waste.
“The world shifted towards more of a recycling standard because of vintage clothing, and that's one thing that's super important to me about it,” said Cameron Rappaport, store manager at Held Over Vintage. “Like, a random Ohio State sweatshirt—kids obsess over these sweatshirts, which is super cool because they would just be in a landfill otherwise.”
Industry mainstays like Rappaport say that the curated and vintage stores have effectively expanded the vintage thrift world, normalizing collecting for a new demographic and income level. Not just 1950s or '60s clothing, the new wave of resale shopping pushes the timeline forward and has forced the industry to think about what "vintage" really is, and how it can be worn today.
“Collecting things and caring about like things was often viewed as something that's only accessible to people who have the means, those who see vintage as an accessory,” Stowell said. “With the younger generation, who are at least more mindful about sustainability, it's been more integrated into our concept of what it means to be dressing well.”
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