Legendary Vintage Shop Moves to North Beach After 10 Years in the Tenderloin
Exactly one decade after its debut in San Francisco, Vacation closed its Tenderloin storefront at 704 Larkin Street on February 15, 2022.
Kristin Klein, the owner of the legendary vintage shop, was initially drawn to the Tenderloin as a “timeless snapshot of a city,” imbued with a great nostalgia “where you feel like people still read newspapers or have answering machines.”
Klein spent her time as a small business owner in the Tenderloin advocating for the neighborhood and its community members. Vacation hosted flea markets to engage with locals, and encouraged better press for a community so often dismissed and disparaged by outsiders.
Although Klein saw great promise and beauty in the neighborhood, the 2020 pandemic inflamed existing problems. Employment rates fell while opioid addiction soared. Klein concluded it was time for a change.
On February, 22, 2022, after much preparation and renovation, Vacation opened its doors at 1499 Grant Avenue in North Beach.
The shop recently celebrated its grand opening party on Friday, March 4, featuring free booze and a performance by Grace Sings Sludge. The performance was a jubilant nod to the future of the shop as well as its past, calling forth memories of Vacation’s basement at 651 Larkin Street, known to host free live music shows.
Given Klein’s history as a band tour manager, she is no stranger to the music world, and in fact owes a great deal of her style inspiration to it.
“I think all the movies I ever watched were about people in bands,” Klein tells me. “The 70’s and 80’s punk stuff is what got me into clothes.”
Between episodes of thumbing through the shop’s endlessly absorbing inventory, I spoke to Klein about her earliest style influences, what she looks for when sourcing clothing, and the appeal of North Beach.
Can you tell me about the original Vacation shop, and the iterations that followed?
Kristin Klein: The very first Vacation store was [opened] in 2006 in Atlanta, Georgia.
I had never opened a store or had any experience with retail. The plan was to open a place where we could do shows and where people could hang out. So we did that, and that store was in Atlanta for two and a half years. The reason that it closed was because I moved to San Francisco in 2009, maybe 2010.
We opened Vacation [in San Francisco] in 2012. I moved and lived in the Tenderloin, and walked past the first Vacation at 651 Larkin Street everyday. Finally, one day I called [the owner of 651 Larkin Street] because I had developed the same problem of taking the 14 [bus] to Salvation Army on 26th Street and working my way backwards, [shopping at] Salvation Army, the Goodwill on Mission, Community Thrift, Thrift Town on 17th Street, and then Goodwill on South Van Ness. My walk-in closet at my apartment in the Tenderloin started to become full of stuff.
The thrifting out here was so good, so we called about the space on Larkin and got it. Then we were there until 2019. In 2019, a double wide storefront opened up right across the street in the Tenderloin. We signed the lease, we built it out, we opened in January 2020, and then the world closed three months later. So we spent the pandemic in Vacation 2.0 and made it last by being an online store.
Then one day I walked past this spot [in North Beach] when my parents were visiting, and was like, I wonder how much a place in North Beach is? It was the same amount of money [as Vacation’s former storefront in the Tenderloin]. So I was like, Ok, let’s do it one more time, but this is it. This is the last time.
What was your introduction to thrift shopping?
KK: I’ve always been an avid thrift store-shopper. My single mom used to drop me off at the Salvation Army because it was cheaper than daycare when I was a kid. So I started buying things that were for friends, or things that didn’t necessarily fit me but were too cool to pass up. I had a room in my apartment in Atlanta full of stuff, and was like, ok, let’s open a store.
What were some of your earliest style influences? Any films that were especially influential?
KK: I always get in trouble with this question because I spent my childhood not watching TV and movies. I don’t have the attention span for that kind of thing, but I looked at lots of books and I became an encyclopedia of the music zone, music stuff.
There’s this guy, Jim Jocoy, who was a San Francisco photographer, and he documented the California punk scene between 1977 and 1980. [This work] is just portraits of these teenagers who were brand new to everything and punk was their thing. They were making it work. You have girls wearing trash bags because they were trying it out, and you have guys wearing dresses because they were trying it out. So that was hugely inspirational to me when I was a kid.
I think the punk world in general was the first thing that I got into when I was young, like [Vivienne] Westwood and the English stuff. Even the way the Ramones made a t-shirt and jeans look awesome. I think all the movies I ever watched were about people in bands. The 70’s and 80’s punk stuff is what got me into clothes. Then I’m also just a sucker for period pieces, but you can’t make everyone dress like Jane Austen, even though it would be cool to do that.
You’ve also worked as a band tour manager. Is that still something you do?
KK: I’ve been a freelance tour manager for bands for 15 years. It paid for the shop to be open for years. If it was an indie rock band that was covered by Pitchfork between 2008 and 2014, I probably know them. We were all in the same circuit for so long. I worked for the majority of the band Deerhunter’s career. I was their tour manager forever. Then I got hired by Huey Lewis and the News in 2017, so I kind of sold out and went for the big money. Huey lost his hearing in 2019, so the band retired.
I have shows coming up with Liz Phair in the summertime, and I just got offered a tour with Om. So it’s cool because I threw my hat back into the ring, and people are still trying to hire me now. I haven’t toured since the pandemic, but it’s a possibility. I also do costuming. I got into the costuming union during the pandemic which is really cool because it’s production, which I’m used to with touring, and garments, which is what I actually like.
Vacation has been known to host live music shows. Can you tell me about that?
KK: The shop in Atlanta and the shop in the Tenderloin both had shows. The one in the Tenderloin was kind of legendary for a while in San Francisco because the shows were always free. We had national touring bands and local bands, but it was always free and it was all ages. Because there were no rules, nothing ever got fucked up. People seemed to respect the fact that there were no rules, so it always worked out really well. And the Tenderloin has a lot more problems than a punk show in the basement with a hundred kids on the sidewalk drinking beer. So the cops were always cool about it.
Then when we moved to the new shop, we did two shows. We managed to get two shows in before the pandemic shutdown. We had a show here, too, at the grand opening with Grace Sings Sludge performing, and I think it turned out okay. We just need to be a little more conscious of the neighbors in North Beach. It’s a little less lawless than it was in the Tenderloin. But I think we’ll keep doing music stuff.
One of the things that I used to do at the first Larkin Street location was I would hit up friends that were on tour and ask if they’d be interested in playing a day show or an after-show. So I think we’re gonna try and do that again. Doing shows that way meant that we had Franz Ferdinand play at Vacation. We had a lot of very well-known bands that were scheduled for a sold out show play at the shop.
The floor art in the new shop is incredible. Who painted all of this?
KK: [The floor painting] was my idea, and I did it. I had some friends help me. I would make the drawing, and then have them help me paint it, but I was definitely the painter of all of it. There’s a thing called senior cords that was a tradition that Purdue University started in the 30’s and 40’s. Instead of a yearbook, they would draw on corduroy pants and skirts different images that had to do with their time in school. So if you were a cheerleader, there would be a horn that you’d cheer through. If you were a math major, there’d be a math equation. There’d be a horseshoe on the ass like a horse kicked you, or it would be the name of your sweetheart. Those are really collectible vintage pieces, and that was part of the inspiration.
Because the floor is painted and it’s not drawings, I also went in the direction of the Mexican grocery store with wonky murals. Nothing here is proportionally correct, or some of the people have crazy hands, or some of the letters are lopsided. So there’s a real charm in the bodega art because it’s almost like folk art. You see a grocery store that’s got Wonderbread painted on the side and a bottle of Clorox, and you’re like, that’s amazing. So those were the things that inspired me to do the floor. Imperfect everything has always been my jam.
I think it was over 300 hours put [into painting] the floor. At about hour 50, I was crying in the middle of the floor in a jumpsuit. But now it’s worth it.
Where does the shop source its clothing from?
KK: Having done this for ten years in San Francisco, I have a really good network of sellers. We buy from the public, but I have a lot of people who specifically pick and sell at flea markets, or they bring a large amount of stuff to me. So I’ll do large buys from individual sellers. Then over the years I’ve developed a relationship with multiple estate companies. In turn for helping price things for the estate companies or helping them organize what is and isn’t sellable, I’ll get first dibs on some stuff. I also have relationships with rag houses. Those aren’t in the city so I have to make trips to do that, but that’s great for something like a hundred pairs of Levi’s. Stuff like that.
And what do you generally look for when you source clothing?
KK: My favorite era is the 30’s and 40’s because that stuff was made so well that it’s lasted through the ages. In general, we don’t do synthetics, so everything is a natural fabric, and it’s really important to me that everything is wearable in a modern time, not costumey. So if you have a disco-themed party to go to, and you’re looking for an afro wig and patent leather platforms, we don’t have that.
I think modern clothing is made like garbage, and it’s essentially garbage that’s taking over the landfills. It’s plastics that don’t break down. And luxury or designer labels are pretty class-isolating…But I think a lot of the garments are still hand-finished by humans and not machines. They’re all made with really good fabrics. So luxury clothes and designer labels are awesome, but most people can’t afford them. So it’s cool to have second hand designer clothes.
What are the most coveted items in the shop right now?
KK: We have a wall of not-for-sale stuff. It’s varying in price level. It’s not necessarily not for sale because it’s expensive. It’s just not for sale because it’s psychotic and I’ll never find another one.
I have a big collection of feminist art, and lots of pro-choice stuff. This is one of the coolest pro-choice things I’ve ever found—It’s [a t-shirt with] a picture of a pregnant guy, and it says, “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?” It’s such a bitch-smack to dudes. It’s a really good shirt.
And we have this tank top that was hand silk-screened by Keith Haring as an invitation to a party. So you had to have the tank top to get into the party, and the DJ was Sylvester. Sylvester’s a legendary trans, gay, nonbinary disco beat master. So that’s a double whammy.
So I have these things which are crazy that are always on display. I do have favorites. I also have favorites in the store, and I’ll get weird about the wrong person buying it.
Why do you think North Beach will be a good fit for Vacation?
KK: The thing about the Tenderloin that I always loved was that it felt like a timeless snapshot of a city. It has this great nostalgia where you feel like people still read newspapers or have answering machines. It just feels like a real city. North Beach is like the flipside of that coin, where it’s a snapshot of a city and it also feels timeless, but it doesn’t have the sadness and desperation that comes along with the Tenderloin.
We spent ten years in the Tenderloin, advocating for the neighborhood and hoping that it would change, and then I just threw in the towel because North Beach is the best neighborhood in San Francisco. It’s beautiful. Every person that we’ve met on the street is awesome, and the neighborhood association has been so stoked we’re here. There’s not a single negative thing about making the move. I spent ten years in the Tenderloin and the District 6 Supervisor, (Matt Haney), never once came in and introduced themself to me. We were [in North Beach] for a week, and the North Beach District 3 Supervisor, (Aaron Peskin), was calling me on the phone to talk to me, asking me what I needed and what he could do. The wine shop brought us wine and the neighbors brought us flowers, and it’s just like, wow. That’s amazing.
I miss our people in the Tenderloin, and a lot of times those people don’t have the means to bring flowers and bottles of wine. They bring themselves. I miss those people, but I don’t miss a lot of the struggles that we had there.