Longtime San Francisco Art Store Faces Tough Search for New Home

You hear it all the time these days: artists getting displaced as landlords jack-up the rent or sell out to developers, taking advantage of San Francisco’s soaring economy.

Howard Flax hears the stories all the time, from his customers.

“San Francisco is changing,” he said, from the bustling floor of Flax Art and Design Store, the art supply store his grandfather Herman Flax founded in 1938.

His grandfather had a soft spot for the struggling artists.

“There was always a fair amount of bartering and credit,” Flax said, before dashing off to help a wayward customer.

But now, Flax finds his family-run art store in the same tight spot as some of his customers. When the store’s lease is up at the end of 2015, it’ll have to make way for another gleaming tower of condos.

Flax, who along with his brother and sister are the third generation to run the business, is now getting a taste of the grim reality other home shoppers in the city are discovering. After a recent trip to scout locations in the city, Flax was a bit shellshocked.

“We have a tremendous space here,” Flax said eyeing the cavernous building which boasts a light-filled room devoted to fine paper. “Finding 20,000 of retail space in San Francisco is going to be difficult.”

Inside the paper room, which holds among others, handmade sheets of paper from India, clerk Calvin Clark sympathized with the dilemma facing his employer.

“I teach art and all my students moved to the East Bay or away,” Clark said. “Which means now I don’t have any students.”

Author and poet Neeli Cherkovski hovered over a counter, eyeing the fine quill pens he uses to etch his poetry in a notebook tucked under his arm.

“This is all part of the gentrification of the city,” Cherkovski said. “Everything is getting shuffled and a lot of people are getting shuffled out.”

The store's location at the corner of Market and Valencia is the third for the company, which moved to Sutter Street after opening on Kearney.

Flax held no sour grapes for his landlord, who he says gave plenty of notice of the store’s pending ouster. He noted the store will remain where it is for another 16 months, supplying paper, paints and photo books to the public.

He also displayed a quiet confidence, rare among the newly displaced these days.

“We’re going to be here another 75 years,” Flax said. “If I have anything to do with it.”

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