Anthony Schlander describes his SoMa outdoor entertainment venue District Six as a kind of “Bay Area outdoor Disneyland.”
“If you go to Disneyland there are a bunch of different worlds, right?” Schlander said. “That’s what we’re trying to create. I don’t have the Disney budget, but the plan is to continually update the model and entertainment.”
On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, Golden State Warriors fans were already trickling in to watch the team’s quest for an NBA championship, food trucks were offering freshly fried empanadas and California burritos stuffed with french fries, and the atmosphere was splashed with blue and gold from a display by 1AM, a local street art studio.
District Six is the new name for the SoMa StrEat Food Park at 428 11th St., which opened 10 years ago as a central space to house a then-novel wave of food trucks. But like many businesses, the pandemic forced a hard reset and a new direction for their operations.
Schlander, District Six’s program director, spent much of the last two decades making a name for himself in the nightlife industry as a club promoter, rubbing elbows with celebrities and athletes and throwing hundreds of events a year ranging from concerts and dance parties to boozy brunches.
The shelter-in-place mandate put an immediate halt to many of those ventures, and forced some quick thinking and adaptation. Seeing an opportunity to move indoor activities outside, Schlander pitched and helped manage a series of socially-distanced outdoor fitness classes at District Six, which fostered his interest in the space.
Last July, Schlander took over as the venue’s new manager, repainting its decor and installing big-screen TVs for game days and other entertainment options for programming meant for more family-friendly (and pet-friendly) outdoor environment.
“A lot of my old clientele got dogs or had kids all of a sudden and can’t really go to a party at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Schlander said
Nonetheless, Schlander relied on his rolodex to bring in R&B artists like MYA, Bryson Tiller and Jon B as part of a plan to attract visitors. Regular events include a weekly Sundaze brunch with rotating food vendors and themed parties celebrating Filipino heritage, or specific food items like ube. A converted school bus at one end of the property houses San Francisco’s only permanent outdoor salon: The Bus Stop Barbershop.
The business’ owner Tim Avalos, decked out in a baseball cap and leather apron, smiled while recounting his part in saving the city’s hair cutting industry: While brick and mortar shops were closed due, Avalos brought his mobile barber truck to District Six and rented chairs to barbers across the city. At its peak, barbers were doing around 400 haircuts a day.
“We put San Francisco’s barbers back to work, before any shop in the city was open,” Avalos said.
With some plastic roofing and elbow grease, that makeshift effort became a charmingly-low key permanent barber shop, complete with a humorously dubbed “wind sail” on the roof that flaps in the breeze every few minutes. The stairs to enter the bus now lead to the shop’s hair washing and shampoo stations and the back of the bus contains the business’ break room.
“We all started cutting hair in a garage or a backyard and to feel like we’re back there again, except with these types of (styles) coming out, is amazing,” said Avalos who attributed PPP loan money and other government aid as vital to that effort.
That’s not to say that everything is peachy at District Six. While the Warriors’ success meant a boost in attendance fat watch parties and related events, consistency is still a challenge, particularly with inflation taking a larger bite out of people’s pocketbooks.
What could help, Schlander thinks, would be a wider array of local festivals put on with city support to attract visitors and residents in lulls between major events.
“We have the opportunity to reimagine San Francisco the way we want to rebuild it and I’m starting with this space,” Schaldner said.
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]