Sharif Silmi was approaching his law finals when he got the call from Louie Cornejo, a retail property manager who deals with properties in the Mission District. A check cashing store was moving on and its space had opened up, Cornejo said.
That was in March 2013 and although the timing wasn’t ideal, Silmi jumped at the opportunity. Ever since he had sold Internet cards on Mission Street as an 18-year-old he had wanted to open a tech store in the neighborhood.
“Some people come in and say, ‘Not another tech store,'” says Silmi, 30, as he stands amid the gadgets Tech Mission has offered since it first opened its doors on Halloween. “But hopefully people will like our energy.”
It’s an energy that has long drawn him to the Mission District, Silmi says. The Mission was the go-to place for the community of local Bay Area Palestinians who, like his parents, immigrated from small villages in Jerusalem in the 1960s. “We used to say, ‘In the Mission, we’ll find it there,'” he says.
The connection meant that Silmi’s first tech experience was walking up and down Mission Street selling Internet cards as a wholesale distributor (“I was the middle man”) to tech stores. Later, he sold cellphones at a “store within a store” on 16th Street. Eight months after that in January 2006, he and a partner opened a Sprint store on 17th and Mission streets. Silmi sold that business once he started law school at the University of the Pacific, but the store still stands.
And he’s not the only Middle Easterner on the block. Nearby, his brother Nabeel Silmi opened Grand Coffee in 2010. Nabeel says he is there to help — happy to watch his younger brother succeed in his first solo operation.
To do it right at Tech Mission, Silmi wants to market both local and international products. PSY Gangnam Style iPhone case, anyone? In two weeks, service and repair will be available. Tech Mission will also sell unlocked phones (no provider sign-up needed).
While it may appear counterintuitive to earn a law degree — he finished in International Legal Studies — only to open a tech store, Silmi explains otherwise. A law degree is helpful in terms of opening a tech shop this scale and size, specifically when it comes to product sourcing, he says.
“San Franciscans are a sophisticated client base when it comes to technology,” he says, explaining that it’s crucial knowing how to “navigate those product supply chains overseas.”
Silmi, who traveled to China at the end of last week to explore product suppliers, says having a law degree makes it easier to understand the legal nuances of international business.
In China, he hopes to find screen parts for devices like the iPad and iPhone. Then in January he will travel to the Middle East to seek opportunities to import and distribute the type of products he carries at Tech Mission.
Dealing directly with product supply chains, Silmi says, assists him in offering products with reasonable price points — some at a third of the cost compared to mainstream retail stores like RadioShack and Apple stores. As of the current week, screen protectors run for $17.99 at RadioShack, while Tech Mission charges $3 and $5. RadioShack-brand headphones will set you back $59.99, while a pair of Galaxy wireless headphones at Tech Mission cost $48.
While he says international sourcing is “necessary and central to our business,” Silmi also wants to promote locally made products.
Some of those include the Boombotix line, and a series of wallet cases made in Los Angeles. Silmi is also interested in scouting for more local San Francisco partners.
Other trendy items offered include GSM phone watches, power banks, tablets and memory cards, packaged by local artists. Silmi, who knows distribution channels, hopes to attract local musicians, either by playing their music or inviting them to do live performances in his store.
Another effort to attract locals includes Tech Mission’s whiteboard — available for anyone in the community to come in and do drawings, advertise local events or meetings, or anything as it relates to the Mission.
The key point he wants people to take away: Tech Mission is a business not built by an outsider, but by locals. It’s a tech store intended for everyone — not just patrons with a certain level of income.
“We’re working off a shoestring budget,” Silmi says, adding that his team of employees is not comprised of “venture capitalists or trust fund folks.”
Although Silmi’s parents moved to the East Bay in 1979, he and his brother remained invested in the city over the years, whether it was for work or play, such as spending time at Ramallah Club on Ocean Avenue.
A tight-knit family, both brothers look forward to working near each other. “Anything we can do to help each other out is always good,” says Nabeel Silmi on his brother opening Tech Mission.
In the near future, gadget repairs and coffee might go hand in hand, according to Silmi, who is ironing out a token system that will offer anyone who receives repairs or services at Tech Mission, a free coffee at Grand Coffee.
Silmi says he is also drawn to the Mission for its “real awakening” of resistance among Latinos in the Mission — something he relates to as a Palestinian.
“We’ve all be colonized,” he says. “It’s heartening to see shared experiences.”
Silmi is brainstorming ideas on how to get Tech Mission engaged in those issues, but for now, he recently invited local artist, Chris Gazaleh to paint a “resistance” mural inside the store.
Gazaleh, who works with Palestinian themes, has done murals in Clarion Alley at 17th and Mission, and at 26th and Mission (across from Hot Press). “I’m very inspired by Palestinian art,” he says.
Situated at the store’s entrance, Gazaleh’s black-and-white mural is made with brush and ink, and is a recreation of Syrian artist Burhan Karkoutly’s 1984 work, “Long Live Zapata – Long Live Abd al Qadir al Husayni.”
The mural depicts the two armed figures of Mexico revolutionist Emiliano Zapata and Palestinian leader Abdel-Qader al-Husseini.
“I want to support local artists by trying to give them a forum,” Silmi says, noting how Palestinians once immigrated to the United States through Latin American.
“You feel that spirit in the Mission along 22nd through 24th streets,” he says. “We wouldn’t have opened a store in any other place but the Mission.”
2649A Mission Street
Monday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.