The neon Electric Blanket sign shines brightly on the dimly lit 17th Street between Folsom and Treat Avenue. The area has long been an industrial zone — there is still a large furniture-making enterprise nearby — but Jillian West is betting on the future.
“I think the type of people who spend their time here are the people who would appreciate and understand what I’m doing,” says West, the 31-year-old owner of the vintage boutique and art gallery, who also lives in the Mission. “I think if I put my shop in other parts of the city, I don’t think there would be the same sort of appreciation, so I’m able to stand out here and bring something colorful and happy to an otherwise really industrial street.”
West chose the location because she was unable to find any other vacancy in the Mission. Besides, she said, the space is ideal because she can have the boutique and gallery separately instead of cramming the two together.
Originally from New Jersey, West began her journey to 17th Street in Australia, where she worked for the Australian government after receiving a Master’s Degree in International Relations. She stopped after five years to work at Twitter, where she started as a temp worker serving coffee and worked her way up into the legal team. Nowadays, she’s back to serving coffee, but this time she’s pouring Handsome coffee at her own store.
“I felt that everything was good and I was very fortunate,” West said about working at Twitter. “But I think the idea was it’s very easy to stay at a day job that gives you a paycheck that’s comfortable, but it’s very hard to decide to do something crazy.”
Nonetheless, that sort of crazy was always on her mind. “This space has been my dream for most of my adult life, and my passion and determination would have made it happen no matter where I worked before this,” she wrote in an email.
Indeed, West demonstrated an entrepreneurial determination early on — waitressing her way through undergraduate and graduate school to become the first person in her family to go to college.
In her spare time she’s always created art, but it wasn’t enough. That realization went into sharp relief after a major scooter accident. Life, she decided, is too short to live with security.
“I’ve been working my whole life to be able to put my dream together and so after a career of office jobs I finally felt like it was able to come to life,” West said.
Electric Blanket is half vintage boutique and half art gallery — there’s also a space for visitors to sit and enjoy the coffee West pours. The entrance leads into the boutique that has dresses, skirts, hats and accessories that West has picked up from her travels or nearby towns.
Next door is a gallery displaying West’s art, a mix of collages, photographs and compilations. One display is a collection of whimsical collages. Some juxtapose unlikely images — the legs of a woman dressed in a 50s-style skirt, for example, balancing atop a clothesline hung with forks. Others use images to suggest fancy — a line of women’s gloves — and adventure — a woman posed confidently with suitcases cascading off her body.
The whole space has a whimsical yet approachable feel. A large chalkboard invites visitors to scrawl their thoughts under questions like, “What is the one thing you wish you had said?” Two answers: “You are the greatest teacher I ever had and you are a bastard;” “Watch out for the second puddle.” She also manages to get visitors to write about their memories of an electric blanket, and these hang from a canopy above.
All of the art and clothes are for sale and soon there will be an online store.
There are roughly 10 vintage clothing shops in the Mission and just as many art galleries. But this is the only one on 17th Street near Folsom.
Nevertheless, West said business is going well. When it is slow and she is not doing paperwork or other small-business work, she uses the time to create art. West said she understands that she is not going to make huge profits from her project, but she told her loan officers she is willing to return to the tech workforce to pay off her loans if all fails.
“I’m an artist, I enjoy doing creative things, and so I think it’s more about staying true to your heart and your beliefs and what’s important to you. And I will go back in an office if I have to,” West said. “Of course it’s hard to understand to leave a comfortable office to do something crazy but, no I felt like it was the right time.”