August 2014

ARCH Ejected from Potrero Hill after 13 Years Here

Rebekah Moan

Potrero Hill residents wept when they learned ARCH Drafting Supply store, located at 99 Missouri Street, was being evicted. Or at least that was the reaction on Twitter. Earlier this summer KQED-Radio broke the news that ARCH was being displaced so that the building it occupies could be earthquake retrofitted. The property’s owner, Aaron Gordon, gave the art supply enterprise until the end of September to pack up. According to Gordon, it hasn’t yet been decided whether the structure will continue to be used as a commercial space or if it’ll become something else entirely. 

Since the news broke there’s been a steady stream of reactions from community members. Susie Coliver, who has operated ARCH on the Hill for the last 13 years, said she’ll be sad to leave the neighborhood. “It’s really amazing how many people have taken the time to write, call, or come by,” Coliver said in an interview with the View. “We feel really close to this community, we feel embedded, but we didn’t know how reciprocal it was until now.”

Some of the Twitter reactions have been angry. “The news about @archsupplies took the wind right out of my sails. San Francisco is pissing me off right now,” wrote Michael Wertz. Others have been heartfelt. “Without @archsupplies, SF is less of a city. Every major project I’ve worked on has a piece of Arch in it,” Tec Quia said.

According to Coliver, the number of people expressing their feelings — many of them saying that without ARCH their lives would be less full — has been incredible. “I received two notes last night from people I didn’t know knew we existed,” she said. “I was never aware they’d been in the store.”

There have also been suggested spaces, with people saying they know someone who has space, or a building, but none has panned out yet. ARCH needs at least 5,000 square feet, but can’t afford to pay more than $9,000 a month. Ideally, there’d be parking nearby, as well as public transit. And Coliver wants to be somewhere that’s accessible by bicycle; not on top of a hill.

While ARCH could move to the Richmond district, Cow Hollow, or even the East Bay, that’s not where the store’s current customers are located. ARCH services Southside San Francisco, which is where Coliver and her employees want to stay. They know the people in the area, and understand their needs. 

ARCH moved to Potrero in the first place because of the California College of the Arts (CCA). Originally, ARCH was housed downtown, but during the first bubble, Coliver lost her lease. She and her staff knew CCA instructors and administrators, and had a personal connection to the college; some of the staff graduated from it. 

“That’s why we moved to Potrero,” she said. “In fact, our relationship with CCA has been very warm and very sympathetic. We work with their faculty to stock what the students need. We stay open late for them in the week before projects are due. We serve the kids coffee and cookies through the night. We pay attention to their schedules and have what they need when they need it. We’re there for them and we appreciate them coming back.”

CCA doesn’t want its students to take time away from schoolwork to go scouting for supplies that they’re getting from nearby ARCH, Coliver said. “We know what they need; we’re a one-stop shop for students,” she said. “But working with CCA still doesn’t solve getting a place for the store.” 

Coliver would love to stay on the Hill; she said she’s really going to miss being in the community. “We have a close relationship with all the wonderful stores on 18th Street, like Farley’s; we get coffee from Farley’s. I’m always sending customers up to Christopher’s, the Collage Gallery, and the like. I think in many eyes on the Hill we’re a part of the 18th Street core of family-owned and friendly local businesses.”

Frustratingly, there’s lots of empty space on the Hill, but it’s not being leased or isn’t affordable; commercial rents are going for $3 a foot.

“We’d have to sell so many pencils to afford rent like that,” Coliver said. “It’s not possible for us. We don’t have deep pockets and aren’t supported by venture capital. When we tell a landlord what we can afford that’s it, because we know our expenses. Someone else can say they’ll pay $3,000 more a month and the landlord will take it; we can’t match that.” 

It’s not all doom and gloom for ARCH and company though. Many arts organizations, particularly nonprofits, are having a hard time finding space, and there’s lots of chatter about pairing up. Coliver is open to leasing a larger space than ARCH needs to become roommates with another organization. 

“That could be exciting,” she said. “That could develop a hub quality to it. We wouldn’t be just materials for procurement, but a place where people use the materials or we could host workshops. Staff spirits have remained high. Yes, we need to make a change, but change is not always bad. It’s challenging because of cost, but we may come out stronger.”


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