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Skatin’ in the Loin

Upper Market has DLX. Upper Haight has FTC. Bernal Heights has Cruz. The Mission has Mission Skateboards. The Excelsior has Streetwise. The Outer Richmond has Purple Skunk. And Downtown has DWNTWN: the newest kid on the San Francisco skate shop scene.

Opened by Leland Ware ( and Johnny Roughneck (Roughneck Hardware) on September 11th of last year, DWNTWN (pronounced “downtown”) may be small but it stocks all of the skateboarding essentials, and then some. Just up the street from the Main Library on Hyde Street, the painted-black façade is the only storefront on its side of the block. Leland discovered the space by chance while job-hunting in the neighborhood last June.

“We remodeled [the space], did everything ourselves,” Leland says. “We hung drywall, friends helped make the racks and fixtures, and laid the floor.”

DWNTWN is all about friends and family. In fact, Leland and Johnny are practically family — they met five years ago when Leland started dating Johnny’s sister. Leland and Johnny’s different yet complementary histories and affiliations have made for a good mix in the shop.

“The plan was to bring in stuff that we liked: brands that we think are authentic, peoples’ pro models that we were a fan of, and East Coast brands or brands that are not represented here a lot,” Leland says. “We wanted to have our rack be different than other racks.”

In 2003, Leland did an art show with pro skaters Chris Pastras and Jason Lee, co-owners of Stereo Sound Agency. Today DWNTWN is one of the few local shops to carry Stereo boards. Other brands selected by Leland include New York-based HOPPS, run by pro skater Jahmal Williams, and Turf.

DWNTWN also reps local: you’ll find wax, hats, and other good stuff from SF-based Benny Gold, shirts from 4fifteen and The Loin (originators of the I <3 TL tees), as well as wares from Sacramento-based outfits How Critical and Lurk Hard.

“If you come through, and if you have a cool concept or a cool shirt, we’re down to give it a try,” Leland says.

And then, of course, there are DWNTWN-branded boards and clothing, as well as 48BLOCKS tees and Roughneck hardware (skate tools, bolts, etc) and shirts. While DWNTWN is a more recent collaborative creation, Roughneck Hardware has been around for almost 13 years and 48BLOCKS is going on four years.

Johnny Roughneck established Roughneck Hardware in 1997 in San Francisco. Over a decade later, the company is still going strong with a diverse team.

“Roughneck is a family, from big guns Andrew Reynolds and Peter Ramondetta to the new young up and coming rippers Andrew Allen and Robbie Roso, just to name a few soldiers,” Johnny says.

Once a year, Johnny organizes the Roughneck BART Tour: skaters of all ages are invited to meet at a spot for a contest and then ride BART to different skate spots and parks all over the Bay Area. Last year’s BART Tour was scheduled to coincide with the DWNTWN store opening. This year will be the sixth Tour and will go down sometime in August or September for “Back to School.”

Leland started 48BLOCKS, an “online magazine,” in 2006 out of a desire to branch out and pursue what he always wanted to do — work for a skate magazine. His stints with Thrasher, Slap, and freelance work for Vapors introduced him to many skaters. People were starting to post little QuickTime skate videos on the Internet and YouTube was introduced to the world.

“I saw the potential for this online interactive experience where you could have a print interview with photos and link out to video parts,” Leland says. “It was the best of both worlds — watching a video and reading a magazine at the same time.”

In addition to the usual shop stuff, DWNTWN puts an emphasis on community and youth outreach. So far, they’ve hosted two after-school programs to show kids what’s involved in running a shop.

“We let the kids ring in orders, fold and bag shirts, etc., and let them know that it might not be all fun and games but you can achieve your goals without sacrificing what you love,” says Johnny.

“We have been encouraging kids to submit artwork so we can turn their art into t-shirts,” he says. “We have [a shirt] in the works. The kid was so hyped we liked his art, now he comes by with his drawing all the time. He went from being bummed on his doodles to really seeing that it could turn into something. Quincy has since bought better pencils and is reading books about drawings. Just a little encouragement goes a long way.”

Every two months DWNTWN hosts a new art installation. This Saturday’s reception starts at 6pm and kicks off a new photo installation by skater Travis Jensen and 4fifteen’s Derek Poon. Frank Chu will be there, and the shop is dropping a limited edition collab Frank Chu tee printed from one of Jensen’s photos.