A decade ago there were over 20 antique stores dotting San Francisco’s Jackson Square District. Today, there is one.

Originally focused on antique furnishings and decorative objects, the Foster Gwin Gallery opened at 38 Hotaling Place back in 1984 and expanded into the expressionist painting and sculpture trade, which now make up the bulk of the Gallery’s trade, back in the early 90s.

While the gallery’s client list “includes the likes of David Rockefeller, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and sports figures like Ichiro Suzuki, Gregg Popovich and Joe Lacob,” along with members of the Villa Taverna club across the street, the gallery’s foot traffic has dropped 80% over the past 5 to 10 years, according to the gallery’s counsel.

With the drop in foot traffic, which has been ascribed “to [a]decline in brick and mortar retail,” despite a number of nearby retailers having opened over the past couple of years (such as Shinola, Allbirds and Fjällräven), the gallery has been struggling.

And with this year having been “particularly difficult financially,” again, according to counsel, “a solution is needed quickly.”

As such, the gallery’s owner, Collier Gwin, who also owns the space, is now seeking permission to convert a little over 60 percent of the gallery’s square footage into 2,942 square feet of office space behind a downsized gallery, the income from which could “provide the income necessary to support the gallery and preserve the historic resource,” arguing that the proposed office use, which would need to be conditionally approved by the City, “will bring employees who will patronize the retail uses in the District.”

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Big D

    I’m not sure anyone is shedding a tear for an art dealer that likely takes a 35-50% commission on the high dollar pieces that they sell. And downsizing their gallery space (aka showroom) to save some cash isn’t exactly a sign of the end in my opinion. Also, I really can not imagine that the bulk of their sales come from walk-ins.

    All else aside, I’m ecstatic to see the neighborhood transform into a truer to form shopping and retail district—now for some more infill on those flat lots. 🙂

    • Posted by Notcom

      You mean a shopping and retail district that’s been converted to office space? The claim that a spot that is adjacent to +/- 30Msf of it – 1.5M in Jackson Square alone – needs a few thousand more so as to “bring employees who will patronize the retail uses” is certainly a contender for this years creative writing award.

      30 years ago, when I worked across the street in the Pyramid, I used to have lunch at a cafe that was just about in this spot. If offered (by the standards of the day) inexpensive and simple food – no curated sushi or 29 kinds of balsamic vinegar: it closed years ago, and needless to say it, or even its kind, won’t be back anytime soon.

      • Posted by Mark

        Hotaling Café! Loved it.

        • Posted by Notcom

          Yes, that was it. IIRC a ‘Mary’ owned/ran it and I guess she retired. (there was also a place around the corner on Montgomery run by two Greek guys: the food was only so-so but it took a backseat to the theatre of fraternal bickering)

      • Posted by Big D

        I was referring to all of the new flagship retail that’s moved in over the last few years. There’s no doubt more opportunity thereabouts but like the transition from sleepy antique row to destination retail. Your cafe might not be there anymore but there are plenty of newer options for residents or shoppers to take advantage of (unfortunately only open 9-5 in most cases).

  2. Posted by c_q

    No offense to anyone really into antiques, I just never understood the fascination for it. I’m guessing a lot more people think the same now.

    • Posted by S

      more for me! 😀

    • Posted by Miraloma Man

      Well, Millennials maybe, you know, all that “stranger danger” stuff you all were raised with.

    • Posted by sf

      Furniture used to be made so well and had such heart built into it.

      The same can be said for architecture.

  3. Posted by JayJay78

    So office rent is prolly gonna net a good 25,000 dollars a month. I think the art gallery/building owner is gonna do just fine.

  4. Posted by Antique

    Antiques by definition aren’t made anymore. That’s the allure. It’s for people who are fed up with buying mass-produced mid-century modern Design Within Reach and IKEA products.

  5. Posted by stop driving

    One antique store, but never a shortage of VC clones in fleece vests.

  6. Posted by Keenplanner

    I’m surprised that the Villa Taverna is still in business. It’s a private dining club for rich members that uses the kitchen of whatever restaurant or bar happens to occupy the adjacent space (Doro’s, the Bubble Lounge, Barbarosa, etc.) The room is not that interesting, but I guess rich people need a place to throw a dinner party when they don’t want people mussing up their homes.

  7. Posted by collier gwin

    garbage in garbage out. this is privacy violating muckraking journalism that trys to make something out of using a space properly by renting out a section in the back that is not being used.

    Antiques and art that is open to the public vs clothing chainstores that have moved in to the neighborhood .. you can each make your own decision. by the way we are not for rent… as we go about this by getting permission in a proper way…then we decide.

    we really have reached a huge invasion of privacy when an irresponsible journalist can access and go in to a government application and not only divulge private matters but make comments that are simply not true.

    I hope you will step forward in voicing opinions about these huge invasions of privacy and come visit us and make your own decision as to whether we are rich selfish retailers or one of the last smaller galleries that look forward to bringing a liberal arts education and worthwhile destination to all who visit our city and the environs of SF.

    Collier Gwin owner Foster Gwin

    btw no more comments except to say we are not for rent…but we do appreciate the wake up call for watching out for big brother revelations being allowed by our city government

  8. Posted by Bob Boblaw

    I love antique stores.

  9. Posted by jane sharninghouse

    I think when someone rents out an unused space in order to maintain a retail store in this city where there are quickly fewer and fewer and they go through the proper channels to do so there should really be applause in the city.

  10. Posted by Canyu Baleaveit

    i was walking with a friend the other saturday afternoon around jackson street. we stopped into a “shoe” store to check out their wares. $450 for a flimsy pair of wafer thin sandals that are “all the rage” in europe and nyc! as if that wasn’t enuf of a shock, we then entered into a “beauty products” shop down the street. after finally getting the salesperson’s attention (her hand glued to her cell phone) we sampled of her wares: more reasonably priced in the $55 to $75 for hand creams. wow! so this is the new fate of jackson street?

    • Posted by Brian M

      Versus $18,000 for a gaudy Victorian table or similar bric a brac? Not sure things have changed all that much.

  11. Posted by Ron

    25 years ago a 5 star, 48 room hotel run by Asian-based Aman Hotels was proposed at Jackson/Sansome in a new low-rise building replacing a corner parking lot and three to-be-renovated structures (preserving some retail). It would have been great for the area, bringing people to the street nights and weekends let alone the clientele could have helped the antique stores.

    The proposal died due to loud opposition from the antique dealer community. Now they’re all out of business and lack of foot traffic is one of the stated reasons. Typical brilliant San Francisco result in understanding how cities really work.

    • Posted by MDave

      Hah. Criticizing how this city is managed and how planning happens and pinning that on the small business owners in the area? I would blame city “leadership” 10x more than I would any business owners.

      Small business owners, the vast majority of whom have to fight a daily fight to stay afloat, deal with byzantine regulations, usurious payroll tax and a type of lawlessness/filth on the streets that is passionately protected by the powers that be.

      City ‘leadership’ on the other hand? Cushy jobs with income and lifestyle protected regardless of how many poor decisions they make or execute, and accountable to no one aside from whatever apparatchiks appointed them. Doesn’t that sound like the class of people that might be making the bad decisions around here?

      But sure, blame the people who must actually try and who actually make things work…

      On another note: Aman existed 25 years ago? Didn’t know they were that old, but their having sights set on SF at that time would surprise me. I’m a fan, but I wouldn’t readily assume that 48 rooms of Aman clientel would do much for ground level retail nearby. I could be dead wrong I suppose, if a small ecosystem of quality restaurants and shops developed around it in response, but kinda hard to envision.

  12. Posted by Conifer

    Jackson Square used to be the high end of the antiques trade in Northern California. There were very important, scholarly dealers, with national and international reputations, who offered excellent wares. The trade has changed fundamentally in the past two decades, largely due to the internet. Every important auction is online, so it is often easy to find out what a dealer paid. Tastes also have changed, and only the very best is in fashion. The rest of the market has largely fallen in constant dollars. This covers the whole world of old things, not just furniture and applied arts, but pictures and rare books and “collectibles.” The tech-driven real estate boom in San Francisco was the last straw.

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