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Life in the Micro-Hood: New American Retail

December 2012

By Anna Acquistapace, San Francisco

There’s a feeling over the past few years that things have become untethered and impermanent. It’s actually a freeing experience. After all the talk of crisis, who needs more weight on their shoulders?

There’s a new sense of possibility around projects that encourage people to follow their dreams. Shops don’t have to be big. A new micro-neighborhood can pop-up and take advantage of unused space. Products can be developed and distributed without taking out a loan, or selling them to a big company. 

The SF Bay Area is known as a hub for start-up companies and entrepreneurship, its citizens brim with both local pride and a taste for home-grown products. Micro-hoods are the perfect way to give smaller, local brands a stage to reach customers. They also offer larger brands a new, niche channel for distribution. They’re about activation and a high-design curation of shops for people, like me, who enjoy a retail experience that carries meaningful values on a human scale.

Proxy SF is a micro-hood built out of converted shipping containers in a longtime-vacant lot. Local brands-- like Ritual Roasters, Smitten Ice Cream, Biergarten SF and Avedano's Meat Wagon-- are all Proxy residents, nestled in the chic Hayes Valley neighborhood. The Museum of Craft and Design also set-up shop, with temporary exhibitions that spill out into the space. Proxy will only stand for four years, during a transition period, until a planned housing project takes its space.

Meanwhile in Oakland, Temescal Alley has transformed old storage spaces into little shops. Local designers Marisa Haskell and Ali Golden offer handmade fashion, and Crimson Horticulture Rarities offers apartment-sized plants. But perhaps my favorite, both for its taste and its story, is Doughnut Dolly. The owner launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her opening costs, and now we have delicious cream-filled treats.

Kickstarter has really blossomed in the past three years, beyond a way to make innovative products come to life. With a new Kickstarter policy that requires functioning prototypes as a prerequisite for campaigns that offer products, consumers can have greater confidence that they will actually get the product they've been promised. And because of this direct relationship, the products offered are geared specifically towards the urbanites that consume them. 

Interestingly, the Kickstarter campaigns are also leveraging media endorsements on their project pages. It's important to create and maintain trust on this platform, because of some of the bad press from failed projects. Having Fast Company or Real Simple talk about the product is both good publicity for the brand, and affirming for consumers.

Retail & Dining
Food & Drink
Fashion & Style
San Francisco

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