The Bay Area tech crowd is not for want of money (rent notwithstanding), but time and taste? Those can be rare local luxuries in the land that launched Google, Apple and Facebook. Analog shopping might seem a relic for early adopters, but local retailers from Oakland to Santa Clara are attracting patrons with hard-to-find brands, a point of view and customer service that has a bit more panache than the average bot — for now.
This story first appeared in the April 27, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
375 Sutter Street, San Francisco (Also 450 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto)
Owned by Mitchells Stores
This stalwart, founded by the late Wilkes Bashford in 1966, is an old-school standout in a new-school and new-money world. While it used to cater mainly to the San Francisco Establishment — former Mayor Willie Brown is one of its devotees — co-owner and men’s manager Tyler Mitchell, whose family’s Mitchell Stores bought the retailer in 2009, says he’s been seeing a surge of younger tech and entrepreneurial types.
“There used to be only dress shoes, but now there are just as many expensive sneakers,” he said. “One by one, they are coming in. They run in the same circles and are redoing their wardrobe.”
They go for a polished-up approach to the classic tech look with brands such as Brunello Cucinelli, Vince, J Brand and Rag & Bone — and word has it that in a digital world, techies still have a soft spot for a handwritten “thank you” note.
355 Santana Row, San Jose
Owned by Federal Realty Investment Trust
“The Row,” as it’s known, is a neighborhood that caters to the tech community and the families they come home to with stores such as Kit and Ace, Gucci, Scotch & Soda, Madewell, Ted Baker, Warby Parker and Bonobos alongside lifestyle perks like restaurants, parks, condos and a boutique hotel. The district strives to create #LifeOnTheRow moments with poolside fashion shows, celeb chef demos and family-style outdoor Lululemon Athletica yoga classes. Collette Navarrette, director or marketing for the trust, said Silicon Valley trendsetters “are desirable customers. These consumers are tech-savvy, fashion-forward and appreciate boutique services.” It also doesn’t hurt that they power one of the leading wealth-generating markets in the world.
3625 Sacramento Street, San Francisco
Owned by Betty Lin
This six-year-old shop is very San Francisco in that it serves up high fashion in an understated way, including the elegant sales staff who don’t hover or push. “Our clients love great clothes but will not suffer for fashion,” said owner Betty Lin, who spent 16 years at Nordstrom. “Busy, busy, busy” women stock up for product launch parties and charity events from brands including Stella McCartney, Marni, Suno, Rachel Comey, Nili Lotan, Avant Toi and Herno and twice-a-year trunk shows from Andrew Gn. This spot, which recently doubled its retail footprint to more than 2,000 square feet, isn’t necessarily for the woman seeking an outfit to transition from work to night but is for someone who dresses to be “approachable” to both the marketing and the engineering teams, Lin said.
333 Hayes Street, San Francisco
Owned by Jenny Chung Seeger
This Hayes Valley boutique started with streetwear in 2008 and has evolved to offer “easy-meets-edgy” offerings from the likes of Just Female, Rick Owens Lilies, Rachel Comey, Robert Geller, Public School and Wings + Horns while accessories brands LD Tuttle and Cote et Ciel accommodate the on-the-move, plugged-in lifestyle, said purveyor Jenny Chung Seeger. Customers focus on details such as material, finishings and linings rather than “fashion with a capital F.” “We get a lot of, ‘I want something different and standout, but nothing too crazy’,” said Seeger, who’ll trade out a customer’s hoodie for a fleece bomber or leather hooded jacket. “They want our advice,” she says, “but they don’t want style to be dictated to them.”
1235 Grand Avenue, Piedmont
Owned by Sherri McMullen
After almost 10 years serving Oakland’s hip in-the-know crowd, owner Sherri McMullen puts together a highly curated fashion offering from an international mix of emerging female designers for customers who work in tech and animation. Pixar Animation Studios sits just 10 minutes away. McMullen started as a buyer at Neiman Marcus and stocks pieces that both resonate with the mainstream market and that the high-end fashion girl can appreciate — think Roksanda, Rosie Assoulin, Ulla Johnson, Ryan Roche, Self-Portrait, Vilshenko and Natasha Zinko. “I opened the store because I realized that women needed a place to find luxury designer brands in their neighborhood without having to travel to San Francisco to find them,” she said. (Pro tip: Some clients attending certain high-profile events can get pieces that aren’t on the sales floor.)
Stanford Shopping Center
660 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto
Owned by Simon Property Group
This is a one-stop destination with a high concentration of shops in the belly of the tech beast, surrounded by some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. In the past 60 years, the property has evolved along with its clientele: In 2011, it became the first shopping center in the Bay Area to install charging stations for electric cars; the new Bloomingdale’s boasts “smart,” tablet-equipped fitting rooms, and the center employs robotic security guards. Favorites include Japanese lifestyle brand Muji, elite must-have Tesla, Burberry and — who are we kidding? — the Apple Store. New stores in the works range from Allen Edmonds to The North Face, AllSaints, hometown hero Amour Vert and the first U.S. location for Luisa Spagnoli.