The Bayview’s Third Street is a bustling artery that runs north and south along the city’s eastern shoreline. Long a center of Black economic activity in San Francisco, the corridor fell into a familiar pattern of disinvestment, business closures and redevelopment efforts of various successes over the years.
More recently, however, there has seen a resurgence that has helped the corridor persist through the pandemic without permanently losing a single business. Today there is evidence of a turnaround as foot traffic and business pick back up and incoming tenants—around half of which are Black-owned—pump new lifeblood into the community.
A throughline of self-sufficiency helped to carry the community and the corridor through the challenges of the pandemic, said Earl Shaddix, executive director of the nonprofit Economic Development on Third.
“The camaraderie, the self-sufficiency, the way businesses worked together to help each other has been inspiring,” Shaddix said. “They all have incredible stories of survival.”
We took a closer look at some of the newer and established Black-owned businesses on the corridor to learn about their entrepreneurial journey, how they persevered through the trials of the pandemic and what keeps them rooted in the Bayview.
The Corner of 3rd and Jerrold Streets
Bayview native Harold Agee, known to his community as “Big H,” is a barbecue master. His lip-smacking versions of all the classics—ribs, chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, oysters, peach cobbler and more—draw the Bayview community to his trailer-kitchen on Third Street.
Agee used to sell his food at pop-ups, but pandemic regulations recently prompted him to invest in a trailer so he could continue running his business while avoiding the overhead of a traditional brick and mortar. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, you can find him parked across the street from All Good Pizza dishing up delicious plates of barbecue.
“It’s beautiful to be in my community where I started,” said Agee. “The journey of being a Black-owned business…it’s a journey. But we’re blessed and we just go with it.”
And what’s next for Big H BBQ? Agee says it’s all about investing in his trailer. “It has so much potential right now. Where I come from, you go big or you go home.”
4442 3rd St.
For Anthony Vaughn, the owner of Third Street apparel store DaCorner, braving the ups and downs of the pandemic has meant rolling with the punches.
Still, it’s not an unfamiliar situation for a man who’s owned a business for a quarter-century on the corridor. The various iterations of his store have emerged through a back-and-forth dialogue with his customers.
What started out as an outlet for African imports like natural shea butter and dashikis turned into a men’s apparel store after customers asked if he could stock clothes they could wear on an everyday basis. When women from the neighborhood complained about the lack of options for them, he started stocking merchandise for both men and women.
Now the store contains a colorful array of shirts, dresses and hats, often emblazoned with logos representing San Francisco’s hometown sports teams.
Through his more than two decades on the corridor Vaughn has seen it all: The introduction of the Muni light rail line, reputational changes and demographic shifts that have transformed the Bayview into a multicultural neighborhood.
“It’s mellowed out,” Vaughn said of Third Street. “People walk up and down the street with baby carriages and their dog and their skateboard. There's no fear anymore.”
4430 3rd St.
On a recent Friday at Feline Finesse, Lilla Pittman ran her students through various drills and routines as evening fell outside of her studio. Feet clicked across the dance floor as hands clapped and voices cheered. It was another successful dance class.
Established in 2014, Feline Finesse was created by Pittman so young girls could have a safe space to express themselves. “Dance is the universal language of love and it also deals with mental health and social and emotional development,” Pittman explained.
Yet her businesses’ journey to having an actual studio space was a lengthy one. It took until 2020 for Pittman to get a spot of her own on Third Street.
Reflecting on being a woman of color business owner in San Francisco, Pittman said it can be both challenging and rewarding. She said it shows her students that anything is possible.
“I’m very new to the block—not to the neighborhood—but definitely to the block. It just shows my young ladies that they can do it too. The sky's the limit.”
4646 3rd St.
After a trip to the doctor revealed concerning signs about her health, Lawanda Dickerson embarked on a nutrition and fitness journey that eventually led her to create U3Fit, a personal training center that merges a focus on physical health with emotional and mental well-being.
She first turned her training regimen on herself and found success losing weight through regular trips to the YMCA. A conversation with a fellow gym-goer turned into a consultation and earned Dickerson her first client.
That client eventually connected her to an open commercial space on Third Street and an opportunity to build out her own storefront with $268,000 in grant funding from the city.
When the pandemic hit, Dickerson was forced to shut down for a few months and pivot to video training and consulting sessions with clients. After she returned to in-person activities, a door separating her training equipment from the front of her business acted as an unexpected savior as it allowed her to avoid classification as a gym and strict city shut down orders.
“The social component was really hit hard,” Dickerson said, highlighting the weekly YMCA class she had to pause during the pandemic. “We're all so connected in this community and I'm just looking forward to getting back to it.”
4704 3rd St.
Cross a gym with a screen-printing shop, and you’ve got Lazaro Ruiz’s The Weight Room on Third Street.
It’s not actually a gym anymore, but the punching bags and boxing gloves that decorate its walls are in honor of the space’s previous owner, George Dean, who ran a gym and was an influential part of many famous athletes' early days growing up in the neighborhood.
Today, Ruiz’s shop is all about helping his community in a new way: by bringing ideas and dreams to life in print. “Everybody wants to show they’re doing something,” said Ruiz.
With a little design work and lots of ink, he can help that message and mission get worn around town. That’s certainly the case within his store; alongside the gym aesthetic, you’ll find T-shirts printed with messages like “Trust Black Women” and “Representation Matters.”
“Being a business on Third Street is beautiful. I have some challenges, but I know a lot of people in the community and that’s been really exciting because it hasn’t left me here by myself feeling like I don’t have any assistance,” said Ruiz.
4526 3rd St.
Walking up to the CDXX cannabis dispensary on Third Street, it was hard to miss the smoke.
But the source wasn’t the products being sold inside, rather it was owner Rodney Hampton who was out front working the grill as part of an impromptu barbecue.
Hampton went from chef to tour guide as he walked through the store, which opened its doors in April 2021. Up first was the art displayed in the dispensary’s storefront, a regularly cycled collection of work from local Bayview artists. Then there was the flower itself, much of which was produced by Hampton’s own grow operation a stone’s throw away.
“I'm born and raised here, and the weed is grown and sold here,” Hampton said.
In the back of the store is a cannabis consumption lounge that Hampton bills as the only one of its type in the city’s southeast sector.
Opening a dispensary in the Bayview was the fulfillment of a longtime dream for Hampton, who was arrested decades ago not far from the shop for a cannabis charge. With the help of investment partners, Hampton was able to receive a permit through San Francisco’s Equity Program, which is meant to prioritize entrepreneurs harmed by the war on drugs.
“Our staff is 100% Bayview-Hunters Point,” Hampton said. “If you're not contributing, participating or engaging in the community, then you are a person that's trying to take over and control. And we don't want that.”
4732 3rd St.
When Olton Rensch started telling his friends and colleagues about his idea to open an upscale coffee shop in the Bayview, there was a healthy amount of skepticism.
“Everyone said, ‘Oh man, make sure to keep your job,’” Rensch said, flashing a bright smile. “Now they all come by to hang out. Not everybody is willing to do something, but somebody has to start it.”
All of Tallio’s coffee beans are named for historically marginalized communities like Texas’s Brownsville, Alabama’s Bessemer Homestead and, of course, their best-selling Bayview dark roast.
Currently, Tallio’s is in the midst of renovations and Rensch is dealing with the familiar headaches of permitting approvals in San Francisco. One recent incident forced him to replace his floors twice due to a mix-up by inspectors. In the meantime, he kept revenue coming in by selling his beans to companies across the country, as well as rolling out espresso carts to community events.
When his operation is back up and running at full strength, he is hoping to relaunch his coffee brewing classes to help teach the larger community about the roots and roasts of quality coffee.
His ultimate goal? To make Bayview’s Third Street a destination for visitors, tourists and San Francisco residents alike.
“That is really what I'm striving for,” Rensch said. “To make it an experience where you can come and spend your money here in the Bayview, not only Tallio's, but all the other local businesses around here.”
4800 3rd St.
Radio Africa & Kitchen started out as a dinner club at Eskender Aseged’s Mission District apartment, born out of frustration from years working in San Francisco’s high-end restaurants.
Aseged wanted to create his own culinary experience, utilizing quality ingredients and fine dining techniques to shine a light on the food of the African diaspora.
That idea turned into a pop-up he eventually operated for seven years before being approached by the mayor’s office to open a restaurant in the Bayview. He saw his opportunity to make his vision of a community-nourishing business a reality.
The challenge of the first few years was a “cultural friction” that required community education and flexibility around menu offerings to accommodate. The business transitioned again five years ago from a sit-down restaurant to a fast-casual eatery which helped open up offerings to a new audience.
Radio Africa & Kitchen sustained itself via catering contracts and takeout orders through the pandemic and Aseged said his team is currently hard at work figuring out how to thrive in the new restaurant environment, while still creating a gathering place to break bread.
“Eating isn't only just consuming food as a fuel. It's feeding your soul, your mind, your energy,” Aseged said. “This is where my heart is.”
5266 3rd St.
Customers go to Loving My Hair for braids of all kinds—lemonade braids, french braids, box braids, crochet braids and more. But owner Brandi Porter hopes they leave not only with great-looking locks, but with an appreciation for their natural beauty.
“We want them to love their hair,” said Porter, explaining that some of her customers come in self-conscious about their hair texture. At Porter’s salon, that’s the sort of negativity they’re hoping to reverse.
Alongside instilling hair positivity, Loving My Hair also runs an initiative for Bayview’s foster youth. Porter and Jacynta Jordan, the co-owner of the Loving My Hair Initiative, braid foster children’s hair free of charge as a way to give back.
“Operating on Third Street—it is our community. We want to be in our community…a lot of people venture out, but that’s not what we’re about,” said Porter, who is also a co-owner of the Loving My Hair Initiative.
1750 Armstrong Ave.
The art of glassblowing is reminiscent of watching a person harness the elemental power of lava to create something delicate and beautiful.
“It’s like watching nature in action,” said Nate Watson, executive director of Bayview arts nonprofit Public Glass. “It's like watching a sunset, it’s so bright and beautiful, but also of this Earth.”
Public Glass was founded in 1997 with the purpose of providing resources and removing barriers to entry to be creative with glass. Typically, this includes teaching classes to the public, workshops with senior centers and local schools and demonstrations of glass blowing for the community.
However, the last two years have been anything but typical. The organization was only able to do limited public programming during the pandemic and survived through grants and government relief, donations and sales of work.
Now that Covid restrictions are starting to lift, Watson said the studio is coming back to life and the organization is hitting the reset button to reconnect with the Third Street community.
“Over time, we really recognized what we missed and what was special about our neighborhood, our friends and our collaborators,” Watson said. “When we started to reopen, we just started to see our friends slowly again. Seeing more and more people back every week gives us hope.”
6295 3rd Street
The buzz of hair clippers and the background din of CNN provide the soundtrack at Gif'd Crowns Barbershop on Third Street. The decor is a mix of abstract art, products with the shop’s distinctive crown logo and evidence of a diehard New Orleans Saints fan.
Owner Kelvin Dillard—known to friends as KD—grew up cutting hair for his buddies. But it was only when he was laid off from his factory job in Louisiana that he thought about making it a career. A chance conversation with a cousin in Oakland brought him out West to attend barber college.
After years of work he had the opportunity to start his own business, one “without drama” and as welcoming to kids as it is to grandparents.
The pandemic has proven to be a struggle for Dillard, who was forced to close his shop for more than eight months. He’s been able to survive with the grace of his landlord, supplemental income through teaching his skills to others and motivation from his six-year-old son.
“I do everything for him,” Dillard said. “I remember when I first opened the shop he was there. He was only around three, but he helped me put these chairs together.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article listed the incorrect address for Loving My Hair. It is located at 5266 3rd St.
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]