By  on March 31, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO -- It just might be the next Melrose. Hayes Street is one of those finds that makes this city's retail scene so interesting. Tucked into the shadows of Opera Plaza and City Hall, not far from the Haight and Castro districts, Hayes Street is home to some of the hottest up-and-coming stores in San Francisco. It's a retail incubator, a Gap-less landscape that nurtures those who have a good idea, but lack the experience to survive on Union Square.

"If you're young, in business and really don't know what you're doing, it's a great atmosphere," said David Dawson, who opened Asphalt Streetwear at 551 Hayes last September. "People are forthcoming and supportive."

Dawson was an artist and painter with no retail experience when he and his partner, Shelly Gottschamer, decided to launch their shop. Asphalt Streetwear features the Asphalt line, designed by Gottschamer, as well as the clubwear, streetwear and workwear of 13 other Bay Area designers. Dawson projects a first-year volume for Asphalt Streetwear of between $400,000 and $500,000.

The 1,600-square-foot store itself, with its black interior, has an atmosphere not unlike that of many clubs. Dawson said young shoppers feel at home on Hayes because of the bohemian nature of the area and the low prices. "It's a community of merchants that reflects our interest in a creative outlet," he added. "It's vibrant and accessible to new businesses because rents aren't too steep."

Low rents also were an incentive for Shari Sant, who launched Worldware at 336 Hayes in March. The interior of the store is constructed entirely from recycled lumber from demolished buildings, giving it a rural look ideal for her environmentally friendly apparel lines and Worldware home furnishings.

Sant, a former design director for Ralph Lauren and creative director at Esprit, said she chose Hayes Street because of its artsy feeling. She began visiting the street about a year ago after the opening of restaurant Vince SF. "I was looking for something with the same kind of attitude as SoHo," Sant said. "Hayes is definitely that."

Worldware is 1,600 square feet, and sales are projected to hit $500,000 during its first year.Local designer Franco Barone moved his San Francisco store from Post and Jones Streets last July to the 400 block of Hayes. Barone's boutique, which is about 900 square feet, is expected to ring up more than $300,000 in its first year, a boost of more than 40 percent from Post Street. He said he expects much of that increase to come from a new, younger clientele.

"My customers there were in their forties, fifties and sixties, and here it's taken a real swing lower to the twenties, thirties and forties," Barone said. "I'm finding the younger women are buying their first serious outfit."

Many of his previous customers who have come to Hayes have thanked him for introducing them to a new retail district.

"Hayes is more bohemian, yet it's much more a San Francisco neighborhood," Barone said. "I used to get a lot of tourists, but here it's 99 percent local. It's like the rebirth of the little San Francisco shopping neighborhoods that were around when I was a kid."

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