Aug 2, 2008

My Top 5 Small SF Businesses

While the Compact is an attempt to reduce personal consumption, I happily support several small businesses within that commitment. We've always said that if you do have to shop, buy local and I stick to that when it comes to the exceptions to the Compact (food, health, safety items, non-consumables). So as I'm leaving, I want to give a shout out to my five favorite small businesses, in no particular order. I've mentioned them before, most likely, but here's the skinny:

Heavy Metal Bike Shop rocks!!! It's incredibly convenient for me, but I've been loyal since the place open because I get such great service. Kim and Dan have worked on 3 of my bikes, often just tweaking something right in front of me and handing my bike back. I'm not a great mechanic. I usually make things like derailleurs worse when I try to adjust them, but I never get any snobbiness at Heavy Metal. They don't try to sell me a bunch of components that I don't need, which makes my Compact commitment easier. And once, I took my favorite kids, Ben and Louisa (6 and 18mo's at the time), down to the bike shop to get a hand break put on Ben's bike. The shop's small but everyone was super cool about letting Ben and Louisa watch the work. It's the kind of place where folks will learn your name if you come around. Stopping in to borrow a tool is fine. Bringing your yard fruit as a thank you is normal, not weird. And there's no formula dictating the exchange, pricing, or work. It's all very real, very now, and genuine.

Four Star Video
has been my bastion of cinematic escapism for a few years now. Blake and I watch movies on our laptops, as we have no tv, but I find iTunes' selection horribly generic. I can't really get behind Netflix because the paper is tossed (and they're totally screwing the U.S. postal system thus we're all subsidizing their profit because of an early contract). So I go to Four Star for choice selection and friendly recommendations. They'll order a film if they don't have it or if it's only on VHS, like they did with Nil by Mouth for me. The staff is great and the owner, Ken, supports neighborhood events and issues with true interest. While I've never attended movie night out behind the store, it seems like a great chance for neighbors to meet in a fun, social way (rather than just bonding together over some political fight, as is so common in SF). I'm always impressed by business owners who engage their communities. Four Star does this in a radical way that's about joy and frivolity, absent the creepy elitism that seeps out of many businesses that attempt to "better" a neighborhood.

The last three are animal related and I've definitely mentioned them in previous posts. I've made my living as a dog handler since moving to San Francisco 8 years ago. Each of these businesses offers a strong product or service, but the attention to sustainability makes them exceptional in the saturated market known as the "Pet Industry". Rather than common greenwashing, the choices and methods of these businesses are genuine efforts to run sensible, healthy, and low impact businesses.

I worked at Pooches' Playtime for seven years because the owners, Molly and Jen, are the best employers you'll ever find. They take their responsibilities as employers seriously in that they want their staff to be happy, well paid, and even respected by the clientele. Support for workers is huge in how I relate to a business and no one tops Molly and Jen in this. Pooches' also contributes to the community by providing foster care for homeless dogs and for four years we supported PAWS with a team at the annual Doggone Fun Run. They were also steadfast supporters of Green DogWalks. Pooches' provides walks, daycare, and boarding to screened clients who suit the environment. If the dog doesn't fit, they give excellent referrals to a more appropriate service, showing that their ambition lies in caring for dogs, not in profit. Pooches' transitioned to earth friendly cleaners before it was cool, and they drive hybrid vehicles for the dog walking service. They let me play eco-dictator for seven years, meaning that I bossed the tar out of everyone regarding grey water, recyclables, repurposed trash bags, running lights, washing machines, and returning those wasteful ziplock bags to clients for reuse. Somehow, Molly and Jen allow for a lot of worker autonomy in a paradigm that is fairly sustainable, great for dogs, and satisfying to human clients. It's a feat not many businesses attempt.

I spent two hundred dollars at Hazel and Gertie's yesterday: mostly Compact friendly items (litter, food, herbs), though I did take some liberties. I suppose it was guilt shopping as I'm leaving my cats here with Blake, their co-guardian, while I'm in London. Jeannine ordered enough earth friendly litter and kibble to last my cats the next 5 months. Blake is set for about half the time that I'll be gone. I also got a new collar for Zalaazil (safety item, modeled in the pic), who came home naked a few days ago. I wish he would fit into the repurposed vintage ties made into dog collars that I saw there. I also got a West Paw catnip toy, which is made out of recycled materials. I've never seen a critter supply shop more committed to earth friendly products and store design. They also deliver food to their dog walking clients, which is rad because it saves car trips. I got a lot of support for Green DogWalks here. Yesterday Jeannine generously threw in a TON of treats, catnip, two spiders (favorite toy), catnip mouse, and a cork ball for my kits. They're completely hung over right now after getting kitty high, gorging on treats, and spazzing out over the toys.

Finally, Smallbatch is a new favorite of mine. On Tuesday I swapped one of my finer bikes for 36 lbs of raw, organic, local, humanely raised cat food. I picked up the first installment Friday at Hazel and Gertie's. Clearly the business is custom if there's a possibility of making a trade at all. The food containers are compostable, which is better than a lot of the food packaging offered to humans. When producing these 6 batches, Diana and David prudently left off the labels, which was the height of consciousness to me. Some things in business become routine, often routine waste. They knew these batches were sold, knew I'd be coming back and didn't need constant in house advertising. It's a very small thing, but I was truly impressed. That detail gives me confidence that the food was attended with like care and attention.

So those are my top five SF small businesses. I've talked about most before but they're worth repetitive mention as they provide excellent examples of how to make a business unique. I never feel like a "customer" at these spots, more like a client. It's a long standing relationship, not entirely centered on currency exchange. If you can recommend useful small businesses in London, I'm all ears (or eyes in this case?).


Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,
I leave a comment becase I don't know your mail address...
I created the french speaking Compact blog in march (when I askde if it was OK, you or Shawn replied "Go for it!"... and the french speaking list recently. I wrote this to you to inform you several times, but "France" is still not on the list of countries, in your blog... and I don't understand why. Is there something wrong about it?
There has been an article about the blog (we are mainly 3 to write in it) in May in "Psychology magazine" with 420.000 ex, and "The Compact" fromSF was mentioned. There has been 2 radios in june (Quebec and Swiss), another one comming in late August, and another big article in a large french weekly newspaper in sept. Just to say that each time I explained where Compact is coming from (you, in SF) and I don't understand why our french speaking mailing list cannot be added on your blog?...
Thanks for telling me if there is something we did wrong!

rachel kesel said...

there's nothing wrong w/ having the list or a blog. i just don't update very often. i actually did post your link on april 1st.
i'm the only one who still blogs here and it's one of my lowest priorities.
so it's no slight, and i really thought i'd already added it. i referred two journalists to your blog a couple of months ago as well. and when i did so, i told them to look in the list to the right. oops. so no slight, just an oversight by an overworked, underpaid person who blogs for kicks, not precision.

you can find an email address through the profile on blogger.

3rd Wave Inc said...

Organic products are essentially earth-friendly, sustainable and natural, not only in its entity but in production mode. Which makes safer and healthier.