‘A Little Gravel, a Little Gold’

Lisa Foti-Straus likes to fashion stories for the name of the store she co-owns with two other women, and on a recent morning, she recapped the recurring tale of a miner coming home from work and his wife asking him how his day was.

“You know, a little gravel, a little gold,” says Foti-Straus referring to Gravel & Gold at 21st and Lexington streets.

Friends and sometimes roommates Foti-Straus, Cassie McGettingan and Nile Nash opened the first incarnation of Gravel & Gold in March 2008 at 18th Street and Treat Avenue.

“It was very much an experiment,” says Virginia native McGettingan of their former 130-square-foot location where they sold a mix of handmade crafts and flea market finds.

Nash and McGettingan became close friends while studying at UC Santa Cruz in 2000, but soon went their separate ways. McGettingan returned to the East Coast, while Nash moved to Los Angeles.

In 2005, McGettingan returned to San Francisco where she worked as an intern at Mother Jones and 7×7 magazines and met Foti-Straus at a party. The three began talking about opening a shop and fantasizing about a collective of artists living above it. As Foti-Straus searched for a place to work on her films, she bumped into their first location.

“Everything that happens to us was an accident,” Foti-Straus says.

Cassie McGettingan

Cassie McGettingan.

The shop is a collaborative effort, or as Foti-Straus says, “a blending of our ideas, thoughts and abilities that seems to add up to more than the sum of its parts.

“We are each good at gathering resources through research and by keeping our eyes open, but most of all by connecting one individual to the next, combining talents and bringing together ideas,” Foti-Straus adds.

To their surprise, the business quickly outgrew Treat Street and it was time to move. Now at 21st and Lexington streets, they have nearly eight times the space. Rustic floor boards, earthy tapestries and a plush window seat lined with eclectic pillows give it a homey feeling. But that was after three months of renovations, including incorporating wood from the old shop.

The idea, they said, was to create a clubhouse feel where artists could sell their work, but also hold workshops.

“I think that there are a lot of projects in the Mission that are trying to combine retail and gallery space–that’s nothing new in the Mission,” says McGettingan.

The owners host workshops at the store and also offer it as a pick-up site for Community Supported Agriculture, a locally grown produce delivery program.

For Foti-Straus, the store is “as close to a co-op situation without artists having to be here all the time.”

When she’s not in the store, McGettingan is looking for treasures to stock on their shelves.

verticalThe inventory is mostly comprised of new merchandise, with about half of those goods coming from small-scale artist-run operations the owners have met with face-to-face.

One of McGettingan’s main goals for Gravel & Gold is to show how local goods, such as the handmade boots, honey and bath salts the store carries, can compete alongside their imported counterparts.

Foti-Straus cites the weekly visits by artists introducing their work to the shop as a sign of growth and diversity of merchandise. Earlier this month, the owners met with a knitter who will produce leg warmers and hats for Gravel & Gold.

A ceramicist also recently expressed interest in selling his porcelain “thumb mugs.”

“We choose to accept items based on the quality of the craft and the exuberance of the object,” says Foti-Straus. “There are many things that we see which are wonderful but don’t fit in with the overall feel of the shop.”

McGettingan said their original dream of owning a house in San Francisco with artists on the top floor, studios on a middle floor, and the commercial outlet on the ground floor “is still very much alive.”

At a summer home the women share in Bolinas, that dream is taking hold. Artists currently reside for two weeks to a month at the house and produce work the owners hope to display soon.

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