Classic San Francisco Shopping: 7 Retailers with Staying Power

Find San Francisco souvenirs and gifts at these stores that have stood the test of time.

San Francisco’s ever-evolving retail scene includes major international labels as well as smaller, homegrown brands that have operated here since California’s Gold Rush. From old-school craftspeople to boutiques taking a unique approach to fashion, jewelry and home decor, these local mainstays offer an authentic option for only-in-San-Francisco souvenirs and gifts. Here are seven legacy retailers worth visiting.

Spectacles of Union Square

Neighborhood: Union Square

Then: Two sisters helped build this eyewear business launched in Detroit in 1932. The business has provided prescription lab and eyeglass-crafting services on San Francisco’s Maiden Lane since 1959.

Now: After studying under master optician Horst Goos, owner Kevin Hershey took over the lab at Spectacles in 1996. The store specializes in custom rimless mountings, handles frame adjustment and repairs and sells vintage eyewear in addition to modern brands like Cartier.

The Goorin Bros. flagship in North Beach

Goorin Bros.

Neighborhoods: North Beach, Union Square, Haight Street

Then: Cassel Goorin launched his hat-making business in 1895, operating from a horse-drawn cart on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His sons moved the business to San Francisco in 1949; today, Cassel’s great-grandson Ben oversees operations.

Now: Goorin Bros. sells hats and offers custom fitting services at more than 30 stores in the United States and Canada, including the flagship North Beach boutique.

“North Beach has an old-world romantic charm and overflows with unique history. It is unlike any other neighborhood in San Francisco,” said Ben Goorin.

He outfitted his signature location with antiques and family mementos, and showroom displays feature heirloom-quality bowlers, cloches, fedoras, flat caps and more. In 2017, Goorin Bros. will introduce a line of made-in-America trucker caps crafted at the brand’s newly acquired New Jersey factory.


Needlepoint in Jackson Square

Needlepoint Inc.

Neighborhood: Jackson Square

Then: When she opened a full-service needlepoint shop on Post Street 27 years ago, Diane Nerheim turned her hobby into a profession. She moved to the current Jackson Square location in 2015.

Now: In addition to stocking embroidery supplies and offering custom-designed pillows, home textiles and holiday decor, Nerheim sells a proprietary line of fine silk thread. She also employs a full-time artist who creates patterns sold at the store.

“Everything is painted by hand—nothing is stamped. It’s like couture needlepoint,” said Nerheim, who welcomes customers from across the country. “We really are a destination for those who enjoy this hobby. Needlepoint is a unique craft that people get hooked on.”


Wilkes Bashford

Wilkes Bashford

Neighborhood: Union Square

Then: San Francisco icon Wilkes Bashford founded his renowned clothing store in 1966, setting the bar for fine men’s apparel and cementing a spot on Esquire’s “International Best Dressed List” for decades.

Now: Bashford passed away in 2016, but his legacy lives on through shops in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Now part of the Mitchell Stores family, the business offers expanded jewelry and women’s departments in addition to classic menswear labels and made-to-measure services.


Lang Antiques

Lang’s Antique & Estate Jewelry

Neighborhood: Union Square

Then: Mrs. Jarmilla Lang opened this Sutter Street store in 1969, drawing on her fine arts background to curate an upscale selection of jewelry and collectibles.  Current co-owners Mark Zimmelman and Suzanne Martinez took over in the early 1990s and moved the store just down the block in 2014.  

Now: Lang’s Antique & Estate Jewelry buys and sells fine antique, vintage and estate jewelry dating back to the late 1700s, from rare engagement rings to art deco watches to cufflinks crafted with onyx and diamonds. Sparkling front window displays draw collectors as well as casual shoppers looking for something extraordinary.

“These pieces tell us about times past and how jewelers took so much time and pride in their work,” said Martinez. “The old pieces were primarily die-struck, hand-finished and hand-pierced. Here, we can point out those details that make each piece special.”


Gump’s

Neighborhood: Union Square

Then: Gump family members established a Union Square shop in 1861, selling home goods and gifts to customers who amassed California Gold Rush fortunes. Owners rebuilt and restocked after the city’s 1906 earthquake and continue carrying high-end decor, apparel and accessories today.

Now: More than 150 years after opening, Gump’s remains a stylish anchor in San Francisco’s retail scene. Displays showcase elegant luxury goods, jewelry, clothing and unique gifts, and a Ch’ing Dynasty gilded wood Buddha acquired in the early 20th century still overlooks the store’s first floor.


Cliff's Variety in the Castro

Cliff’s Variety

Neighborhood: Castro

Then: Retired merchant and teacher Hilario DeBaca opened a Castro Street shop in 1936, selling sewing supplies, cigars, candy, magazines and other basics in a space named for his youngest son, Clifford. DeBaca’s oldest son, Ernie, and subsequent generations have managed the store through expansions and location changes leading to the current spot at 479 Castro.

Now: True to its name, Cliff’s Variety carries a range of hardware, housewares, art supplies, fabric, toys and more, plus seasonal items and playful gifts for all ages.