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Toys that Aren’t Just for Kids
by Jialin Luh on Sep 21, 2006
For most locals, North Beach is probably not the first neighborhood to come to mind for shopping; it means braving the tourists and sidling past the strip joints. But there are a few gems that could motivate the savvy shopper to venture that way, and Double Punch is definitely one of them.
Neighbor to sneaker mecca Recon on Powell and across the street from Washington Square Park, Double Punch is the go-to place for imported vinyl toys from Japan and Hong Kong. But you’ll also discover a fine selection of Gama-Go wares, stationery, t-shirts, graffiti and art books and enough cute things to make you feel all warm and gooey inside or wish you have endless nieces and nephews on whom to bestow gifts.
Double Punch is a two-story deal. The first level is the retail store and the second currently serves as Gama-Go’s Pop-Up Shop, but has typically been a gallery space in the past to showcase fine art by local up-and-comers. This two-month installation ends October 15th, so if you have an affinity for cheeky fun characters you should plan on hustling over.
If you weren’t already in-the-know, Gama-Go is a local brand that started out of co-founder Greg Long’s basement in 2000. Greg and co-founder Chris Edmundson started screen printing tee shirts to showcase some of their friends’ artwork and to escape the banality of the nine-to-five grind. Now-famous Tim Biskup was then one of their up-and-comers artist friends who created the Gama-Goon character that went on a tee shirt. The Gama-Goon sold 36 tees, and Gama-Go officially became a business in May 2001.
Since then, the brand has developed a strong following and now makes myriad tees, pajamas, housewares and stationery that are sold in 250 stores around the world. There is something special about being able to claim Gama-Go as something San Franciscan and Double Punch provides a unique opportunity to get intimate with the local brand. The walls are lined with original sketches of Gama-Go designs ranging in price from $40 to $1200, many by Tim. True collectors’ items!
There are of course the famous tee-shirts and track jackets for ladies and gents ($26-$75), but there are also long sleeve thermals with exposed serged stitching bearing the Gama-Go screens ($34), the really exciting yeti slippers ($28) and comical gun and branch pillows ($40), as well as wallets, iPod holders and sweatbands. As a bonus, Double Punch is running a promo deal: if you spend $100 or more, you get a little Gama-Joe figure designed by Tim for free (normally retails for $28)!
Back downstairs you’ll find treasures stuffed into every nook and cranny of all colors and sizes. Double Punch founders Denise Wong and Omar Valles describe their toy selection as “mid-to-high-end collectibles” but there is a favorably broad price spectrum. Plus, all the prices are clearly labeled so you don’t have to approach the counter feeling like a dufus when the salesperson names some outrageous price, as you might in some other boutiques. The immensely popular Be@rbricks and Kubrik vinyl figures are available for $10 and under, though the limited edition varieties will run you more. For example, graffiti artist Futura’s 8” Be@rbrick will set you back $85, but we are talking about Futura.
The New York graffiti/graphic artist Futura’s Nosferatu 16-inch vinyl figures ($125) are also for sale here, as are plush versions of the Pointman you might recognize from the cover art for Unkle -- the musical duo consisting of James Lavelle and DJ Shadow -- $50 for the small version and $100 for the large. The Eric So version of Nosferatu is a limited run of 400 and retails for $150. If you are a fan of graffiti/street art you will also love Sam Flores’ “Fatima” vinyl figures -- a collaboration with Upper Playground limited to 450 pieces ($65). This holiday season also be on the lookout for another collaboration between Double Punch and Upper Playground: a mini series of toys featuring designs by Sam Flores, Jeremy Fish, David Choe and Coro.
Being a fan of Jeremy Fish and hip hop heavyweight Aesop Rock, I could not resist The Next Best Thing a creative collaboration between the two. It comes with a seven-inch and book of illustrations ($25). I also had to have the “No-Boys Issue” of Peel, a magazine on stickers, stencils and street art.
Being a fan of Japanese graphic designer Mori Chack’s Gloomy Bear character, I also picked up a pair of largely (un)necessary pink Gloomy Bear slippers reminiscent of pink snowball treats ($22). The claws were so darn cute clasped together hugging my foot I couldn’t resist. These are imported from Japan and very limited. You can also get notepads, pens and cell phone charms with Gloomy. The popular Ugly Dolls are also available here, including special edition versions that were being sold at San Diego’s Comic Con.
It is true that some of the aforementioned characters/brands can be found out some other places around town, but what really sets Double Punch apart from the others are its assortments of Asian vinyl figures. Robot Dolls are a collection of dolls designed by artists hand-picked by established manga artist Range Murata. The six figures are based on the Robot manga compilation and through this collaboration Murata has found a way to promote little-known Japanese artists.
The Pinky St. dolls are also quite unique. These adorable little figures have interchangeable parts so you can mix and match outfits depending on your mood. This may sound like the perfect gift for your six-year-old niece, but in Japan these dolls are favored by older men who often have their dolls customized to match their favorite anime characters. Those coveted Blythe dolls from the 70s with the colored eyes I find a little unsettling are also available here. With the pull of a string, the dolls’ eyes change colors and they are garbed in some snappy 70s fashions.
I am not big on toys but even I found lots to love here. Though I am not a huge fan of anime, these toys are so finely crafted I couldn’t help but admire them. The action figures really drew me in though. There is a Freddie Mercury action figure that apparently emits music and moves ($40). Near and dear to my heart is the Kurt Cobain action figure. In the glass counter at the cash register you can also find hand chiseled busts of Kurt & Jimi Hendrix. Other figures include the Green Lantern from Spiderman, Hellboy, characters from Final Fantasy and vintage Kellogg’s and Mickey Mouse characters rendered in vinyl.
Last but not least, Double Punch has a modest consignment wall displaying affordable pieces by local artists. Nothing costs more than $100 but all are charming and would nicely spruce up the walls of many an abode. Currently Michael Loomis’s pieces are selling like hot cakes. Looking at the “Te Amo” themed works on acrylic and wood it’s not hard to see why. Double Punch is always on the look-out for new artists’ work to display and sell.
If there is one redeeming quality about North Beach to a jaded local, it might be the zoning laws that enforce a “no chain store” policy in the neighborhood. Take some time to patronize these unique shops and surprise yourself with what you may find. Now if only I could find that Mastodon shirt Gama-Go designed to wear to their upcoming show…
by Jialin Luh on Sep 21, 2006
Gama-Go's popular TigerLily vinyl figurine
Kurt Cobain action figure
Gloomy Bear slippers