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Brown Bear


As Divisadero approaches Haight St., an eccentric strip of shops and boutiques appears. The area is more of a destination than ever before, with fine dining (Nopa), live music (The Independent), and nightlife (Madrone, The Page, Waziema). As regular foot traffic grows so do the businesses, which already include a comic shop, a day spa, a games shop, and various second-hand stores.

Brown Bear, a five-month-old vintage clothing store and art gallery, is a newer addition to this mottled portion of Divisadero. Refusing to be any one thing, the store sells carefully picked vintage clothes for men and women, showcases new clothes and accessories from independent designers, and uses the wall space in the back as a gallery space. The diversity of art and fashion works -- window shoppers pop in for the clothes and end up meandering through the store.

Running a shop is a first for Hope Plescia, one of Brown Bear's two owners (the other is Akasha Rabut). The girls are full-time students in addition to running Brown Bear, which is open seven days a week. Both have a history working in vintage resale.

"We've just been immersed in the lifestyle for a long time," says Plescia. "Plus both of us are artists. We decided to go ahead and start something up ourselves."

That "something" used to be a popular pet store called Puppycat, and before that a Santeria store that sold religious candles. Now it's a live/work space, with two apartments in the back and the store in the front.

Brown Bear has an economy of space familiar to a more-haughty (and expensive) downtown boutique: the white walls are mostly sparse, and two racks of men's and women's clothing line each side. There's a coffee table and low-sitting chairs in the center of the room. The dressing nook -- a colorful sheet drooping from the tall ceiling -- is behind the register, which sits on a showcase full of accessories. The vintage clothing looks clean and some of the pieces date back to the 1920s. Bright t-shirts from the 80s start around $10, while older garments, party dresses, and handmade custom pieces can creep past $100.

"We always shop for the clothes outside of the city so it doesn't get recycled," Plescia says, adding that pieces come handpicked from all over—as far as Canada or Arizona. At Brown Bear, inventory gets changed out "often."

The last Saturday of each month, Brown Bear hosts a free opening for the upcoming month's show. The store stays open late and friends and neighbors filter in an out -- many brown bagging beer or wine. Past shows included food and live music, but most just show the art and the store. Either way, it's a pleasing multi-sensory overload, especially for Plescia (who sculpts) and Rabut (a photographer), artists in their own right.

"We're trying to build a community," Plescia says. "We want a very productive, creative, original community to spring up with us and around us and for us and because of us. Whatever we can do to serve that purpose, where we have people doing their art and fashion here while we do ours."

Neither all vintage nor exclusively local designers, Brown Bear represents more of an aesthetic than anything else. The store's dynamic take on both fashion and art makes it a perfect fit for such a burgeoning and diverse area.