Local Legends

How This San Francisco Corner Store Keeps The Neighborhood Alive

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A man in front of a shop.

Mekonnen Seyoum is as integral a part of the neighborhood as the bison in Golden Gate Park. (Paolo Bicchieri)

Early on a Wednesday morning, while smoking a cigarette in front of his shop, Mekonnen Seyoum stops to chat. He’s dressed in a blue button-down shirt with a black mask pulled down his neck, showing his curly black and white beard. A tall paper cup of coffee is in his other hand. Seyoum has owned his shop, UC Market, on the corner of 3rd and Hugo in the Sunset for eighteen years. 

“We locals are going to disappear soon,” he says as a wisp of smoke vanishes in front of him. “I don’t think I will survive the coming six years.”

There are as many corner stores, boutique stores, legacy institutions, and markets in San Francisco as there are stories behind those businesses. But for owners like Seyoum, and their convenience stores, it’s the interplay of the neighborhood and local commerce that make their shops shine. 

His corner below UCSF has the wear-and-tear of many a neighborhood corner store. There’s a faded sign on the window above bins of oranges and apples in ramshackle wood to the left of the door. The aisles are aged, worn-in. Here’s a place you’ll find soap, cigarettes, day-old lettuce, and boxed wine. It’s also a place where you can get pre-packaged super-flammable logs and even Lunchables. Whatever you might need, all below the fluorescent lights. 

Part of UC Market’s charm is the familiar nature of his business: it could be on any corner anywhere, which makes sense given its owner’s storied passport. Before setting up shop in San Francisco, Seyoum lived in seven countries including Australia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya. He’s originally from Eritrea, and sends regular remittances to his younger siblings back home. “The responsibility is huge,” Seyoum says. “I depend on the neighborhood.”

Seyoum says that despite plenty of regulars, no one has come to talk to him about his business’ health before. It’s just not how people think, he says. And he’s noticed a particular shift in the past four or five years. “People’s lives are more hectic,” Seyoum says. “Nowadays people can order from home. They don’t have time.” Though money woes loom large, Seyoum says locals still show him love with their wallets. He explains that his customers pick up some of their goods on their doorstep through Instacart and Amazon, and the bulk essentials at grocery stores, but they still spend a few dollars on snacks and drinks at his market.

It’s the ongoing commitment from people in the Inner Sunset coming to get that last minute bag of sugar or bottle of chardonnay for the house party that he relies on. He says it’s because locals want to see him do well, that they like the convenience of a corner store. “They want to help me,” Seyoum says. “They don’t want me to disappear.”

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.