Union Square, almost boarded up and almost deserted in COVID-decimated downtown San Francisco, had something to celebrate on Wednesday morning.
Shortly after 8 o’clock in the morning a flatbed truck arrived at 117 Post St. The Arrow Sign Co. truck in Oakland provided a new, replicated blade sign for the historic Britex Fabrics store, one of the marquee stores in Union Square, and one of the few open stores on a section of Post Street that has gone from posh for the past eight months has switched to plywood.
A couple of Britex workers gathered to watch a crane lift up the aluminum shield, which is 20 feet high and weighs 1,200 pounds. As it turned in the wind, the bright red sign was slowly directed towards its new home, which was anchored to the two-story glass front. Like the original sign, this new $ 50,000 sign is lit by both double-tube neon letters and lightbulbs – the neon outlines the letters and small LEDs that make up the “B” from Britex and the “F” from Fabric illuminate.
Dina Fayer, General Manager of Britex, was pleased and slightly relieved that the Britex signature color was on the money.
“We got the red right – the Britex red is very important,” said Fayer. “It’s a shade removed from Louboutin red.”
In 2017, Britex moved from its old home at 146 Geary Street to Post Street, in part due to gentrification and rising rents in its former building. Now it is no longer the story of an independent business being supplanted by international luxury brands. Instead, all of Union Square is in the same situation, littered with empty shop windows and “for rent” signs. Next door, the former Gump’s room is dark, and across the street three storefronts are looking for tenants.
Like the other shops and restaurants in Union Square, Britex was having a tough time amid the coronavirus pandemic – sales fell more than 50%. The store popped by selling homemade mask sets and face cover materials. The home decor was great – couch covers, curtains, sheets.
“They sew more. You design more. They dream more, ”Fayer said of her customers. “You can dream a lot between the Zoom meetings.”
But that didn’t make up for the fact that no one comes in from the street anymore, no more well-heeled tourists or day-trippers who make a Britex luxury a part of regular visits to San Francisco.
“I shouldn’t be negative, but downtown really could use a shot in the arm,” said Sharman Spector, second generation shop owner. “I hope this will be a beacon. This is something that is good right now. It’s really hard down here now. What can I say? Unfortunately, I’m a realist. “
Spector’s father Martin founded Britex in New York in 1939, and he and his wife Lucy relocated the company to San Francisco and Union Square in 1952.
The original Britex sign, 33 feet high, was erected in 1964 and made large enough to be seen from Union Square itself, half a block west. The Britex owners investigated the possibility of moving this sign to Post Street, but found it was too tall to fit in the Post Street building without blocking the windows of the office above the Britex room. The installation of the original sign would also have required a change to the historical facade, which the city had banned. It’s still plugged into the old shop.
“The size of the building and the distinctive facade of this building made it impossible to move the massive Legacy Shield,” said project architect Gilly Youner.
At 117 Post St., contractor Garrett O’Donoghue cut holes in the glass of the windows because the building’s ornate facade could not be altered.
Spector’s husband, attorney Gary Angel, said he initially questioned the wisdom of installing the shield as the coronavirus rises and a new wave of lockdowns installs.
“I said we boarded up the whole street. The pandemic is raging. I’m not sure it was time to sign up, ”he said.
But Spector argued that the timing was ideal.
Sharman said, ‘You know what? There has to be a positive sign for downtown, which shows that there is hope that we can go back to where we were before, ”Angel said.
Lou Carrillo, who heads the store’s shipping and receiving division, said the arrival of the sign showed staff that Britex is serious about surviving the pandemic.
“When I came around the corner and saw the sign on the truck, I felt really good,” said Carrillo. “This sign gave me consolation and showed us, the employees, that my boss is committed to us and the community. It’s a sign of hope for the city as times are difficult right now. “
JK Dineen is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sfjkdineen