By Regina Connell.
Picture this. An uninspired stretch of San Francisco’s Market Street in a no-man’s land between four slowly gentrifying neighborhoods. An independent store/gallery, selling a little bit of this and that for the home, with nary a major brand in sight.
Not exactly the classic recipe for success.
And yet, for years, a store called Rare Device was a magnet for locals and tourists who braved its unmoored location, embraced its quirky and very personal taste, and learned to love the work of artisans Rare Device specialized in, long before it was cool to do so.
Now, imagine you’re the person (a first-time store owner, no less) who buys that store from its well-known, well-regarded owners. And then you move it to another neighborhood, also off the beaten path. Oh, and you’ve just had a baby.
Crazy, you’re probably thinking. But maybe brave as well? Giselle Gyalzen, the new owner of Rare Device, is probably both. What we love most, though, is her grit, her instincts, and her spot-on taste.
Grit was well-demonstrated when Giselle bought the business a mere five months after giving birth to her daughter. (She does say that if she’d thought that part through, it might have been a tougher call.)
Let’s start with instinct. The new Rare Device is located on a street corner (right next to a bus stop) in the rapidly-gentrifying area known as NOPA (North of the Panhandle). It’s not glamorous, but the area’s got the feel of a bijou version of Valencia Street, the hottest street in the hot Mission District. NOPA is up and coming, a place to discover the independent, the effortlessly cool, and the satisfyingly below the radar. Big tick in the instinct box.
When it comes to curating her store, Giselle lets those instincts rip. She hunts down sophisticated craft at the big New York and San Francisco gift shows; she haunts Renegade and the emerging Unique shows. Increasingly, she receives submissions from around the world. (That’s one of the benefits of being renowned as a champion of independent makers in a city known for its independent streak. Great people come to you, trusting you with their work.)
As evidenced in her curation of Rare Device, Giselle seems to be a believer in the principle that small moments add magic to life. Whether it’s the small rocking votives from Pigeon Toe Ceramics (one of our perennial favorites), a breakfast express train by UK artist Reiko Kaneko, or some gorgeous little glass pebble vases by Sugihara, these objects make a corner, a desk, a home.
Giselle’s tastes are clear and strong. She loves pops of color and strong lines. She loves sophisticated whimsy. She loves great design with a clever, functional twist. And she admits a weakness for ceramics.
In a cafe down the street from the store, Giselle explained her process. “I work a lot on gut instinct. But in my mind I have an idea of what Rare Device is: modern, approachable, whimsical, something that relates to people.”
She also curates with her customers in mind. “Our customers are people who appreciate good design, who love the handmade, who want to give gifts to people that are unique. If they’re buying for themselves, they want things to treasure. They want things that are more heirloomy, things that they’ll keep and cherish.”
The new locale has inspired changes to her mix. “On Market Street, it was more of a destination. People who knew about Rare Device knew that we had things that you can’t find elsewhere. But here, we have a lot more local traffic. I have to rotate my stock much more often. Being part of this neighborhood means that people come in looking for things they can use in their lives. That’s important and that influences what I look for. There are also a lot of last-minute gift buyers who then buy something for themselves. And we stock a lot of things for kids, which is fun for everyone.”
While Rare Device feels appealing to both men and women, say “craft” and “artisanal” and you usually end up appealing to women. And that’s true of Rare Device. Giselle laughs, “The constant thing I struggle to achieve is to make it more man-friendly. There aren’t that many products out there! But men do come in, often accompanied by women, then end up buying for themselves.” What’s the most surprising things that men buy? “That leather key chain/coin purse. I had originally bought that for women. And men do pick up earring studs as well.”
Giselle is as inspired by the artisans as she is by the neighborhood of her customers. “I’ve always loved artists and artisans; I’ve always wanted a place to show their work and explore their world. I’ve always wanted to make my own stuff but never felt that I was really great at it. At some point, I realized I should stop making stuff, and should just sell it.”
The handmade and the artisanal are both an aesthetic and a cause for her.
But retail’s grueling. Isn’t there an easier way to make a living? Probably. But then it’s also important to be fulfilled, and, as Giselle says, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think I’ve found my calling. Someone came in and sent me a note that said she came into the store and left so inspired. That makes me happy.” In Rare Device, Giselle’s been able to translate that joy into the vibe of the store.
600 Divisadero Street, San Francisco
Eco dough and coin purse images courtesy of raredevice.net.