Why I Love Small Businesses
By Nicolette Beck
What is it about a particular city or town that makes one love it so much? Things that come to mind for me include walkability, architecture, food, and music. In a way, walkability is a part of the architecture (or vice versa), and the other things on the list all come down to the small businesses.
Small businesses are an expression of the individual personality of a city. Unlike the identical chain stores in every city, small businesses show the particular interests and values of the people who live there. They are often quirky and special and have human faces behind them that we can meet and get to know. Small businesses are also more attainable, and empowering, and meaningful for those who get to start one. Even you, dear reader, could start a bakery, or gallery, or restaurant and make it exactly what you think it should be, local laws permitting. Compare that to the prospect of running a chain franchise at the mall.
And small businesses, much like the existence of the middle class, is not something to be taken for granted. Without intentional effort to protect these things, [manufactured] economic forces threaten their very existence.
I currently live in San Francisco. Much of what we in SF are nostalgic about are the small businesses lost in the last 10 years or so: Slims, The Elbow Room, Flax, the Lusty Lady, Lucky 13, Viracocha, Amnesia, the SF Bay Guardian, etc. This is all the more reason to treasure the ones we still have.
I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite Mission small businesses. Come visit them wherever you’re in the neighborhood, and if you live elsewhere, remember to treasure and appreciate the ones you have.
Firstly, right near my house is a young café, which I think opened during the pandemic and has meant so much to many of us in the neighborhood. Coffee Shop, on 21st and Bryant St, is small and friendly. They roast their own coffee beans and bake their own pastries every day (including croissants! Do you know how hard it is to find a fresh-baked croissant?!). The owners are the friendly and extroverted Winston and his wife, Olga—who hails from Ukraine and is passionate and skilled at French baking. Those who go there regularly end up getting to know the owners and staff, as well as meet fellow patrons and form friendships. Personally, that is a new experience for me. I used to go to businesses all the time and never have an actual conversation with the folks working there, let alone learn their names and get to know them. Maybe it’s something about the pandemic—we appreciate human connection more and are more open to it? I don’t know. But still, there is something special about Coffee Shop.
Then there’s La Palma on 24th St. This place is incredible. They make their own organic, non-GMO, handmade corn tortillas on a daily basis, right in the shop! How amazing is that? They also make delicious Mexican food, of the highest caliber, and have grocery items for sale as well—a bit like a bistro. It’s like really being in Mexico, in all the best ways (minus the beach). We are so lucky to have La Palma.
Then there’s Espiga de Oro. My family and I call this “the pupusa place,” and we love it so much. We go here for delicious pupusas, chilaquiles, tamales, and other Central American food. This place is friendly, homey, humble, and very authentic. Bring your best Spanish because the staff doesn’t often serve English speakers. This is some real, old-time Mission deliciousness.
Then there’s Medicine for Nightmares, a wonderful bookstore on 24th St in the Mission. Until recently it was Alley Cat Books, but the owner, Kate Razo, got older and wanted to retire. Luckily, she was able to sell the business to her friend and Chicano poet, Josiah Luis Alderete—along with new co-owners, Tân Khánh Cao and J.K. Fowler. It’s got all the sections you would want in a bookstore, as well as special sections for Bay Area authors, bilingual literature, political discourse, Chicano poetry, and more. It has gallery space and hosts events.
And finally, there’s Little Bissoap Baobab! What a special place! Residing on 19th and Capp Street in the Mission, Bissap Baobab is a small Sengalese West African restaurant with cocktails and live music. The food is absolutely delicious—featuring things like fried plantains, creamy red curry, prawns, and peanut sauce. The live music is diverse—Balkan, Brazilian, Afrobeats, Caribbean, you name it. Bissap Baobab was founded by Marco Senghor, an African immigrant born and raised in Dakar, Senegal. It’s a testament to the vibrant diversity of San Francisco and how many delicious flavors from all over the world have come together to grace our city.
In a way, businesses like these are THE major benefit of living in a city (along with convenience, I would say). I’m not here for the crowds or the garbage… I’m here for the diverse and delicious food, the ability to walk to my neighborhood cafe, the live music, the thrift stores, bookstores, comic stores, boutiques, the farmers’ markets, and all the little things that make up CULTURE. It’s a mosaic of the world in one little urban area that we are lucky to call home.