For newly transplanted San Franciscan Jessica Ann, her new gift shop on Union Street in Cow Hollow is not just a store. It’s a tribute to her ancestry—in particular, her devoted grandmother.
Nikoniko Gifts, the all-Asian artisan shop highlighting goods from across the continent’s diasporas, nods to Ann’s Korean and Japanese heritage. The name means “smiley” in Japanese, and the brick-and-mortar's logo and signage spell it out in Japanese and Korean lettering to honor both halves of her family tree.
Nikoniko is also a reminder of the sage advice of Ann’s maternal grandmother, a determined businesswoman who raised her single-handedly from the time she was 9 months old before passing away, shortly after Ann turned 18.
“One of the things that kind of resonated was that my grandma always said, ‘Do what makes you happy,’” Ann said. “And when I think about things that I like, I smile. You know, we naturally smile. And so I wanted everybody who walks in here to find some sort of happiness, even though it's just a brief moment.”
The shop, which stands out for its array of goods by Asian brands and artisans from around the world, offers plenty to smile about—from greeting cards of fanciful French frogs made by an Asian designer in London to rare Japanese knives cut in the shape of whales.
“Whether you're Asian and you're living in London or Asian and living in France, there's a story behind it,” Ann said as she showed The Standard around the store.
The intention of the store was to fill a void or “white space” in the market for Asian goods, she said. From Chinatown to Japantown, San Francisco boasts many shops that celebrate the craftsmanship and creativity of Asian artisans, but Ann—who grew up in Los Angeles’s Koreatown—didn’t see many stores that brought all of these rich cultural traditions together in one place after moving to San Francisco last year.
“When I look at even stores in LA or stores here, there's not enough representation for Asian artisans or designers or creators,” Ann said. “I didn't see a lot of integrated, mixed Asian representation in gift stores.”
So soon after quitting her job as a toy designer for a startup earlier this year, Ann launched Nikoniko, securing a lease and setting up shop in just five weeks. The store celebrated its grand opening earlier this month and plans to sell a range of gift sets in the lead-up to Mother’s Day, which can be packaged in beautiful silky wrappings, Japanese- or Korean-style.
In another nod to Ann’s dual ancestry, the store offers a unique gift-wrapping service, which combines Japanese furoshiki and Korean bojagi gift-wrapping techniques. Whether you purchase something for your mum in-store or elsewhere, you can buy a box and reusable fabric from Nikoniko, and the store will wrap up the item for you. The fabric can be repurposed as a scarf, a table setting or wall art, adding to the sustainability and sentimentality of the gift, Ann said.
She wanted to share these traditional gift-wrapping techniques so that she could put a loving touch on the products she’s sharing with patrons of her store—just as her business-savvy grandmother taught her.
“The way I talk to customers when they walk in, the way I treat them, the hospitality, like the mindset of all of that, I learned that from her,” Ann said of her grandmother. “So it's a tribute to her.”
📍2181 Union St., SF
Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com