Park Life, the contemporary art and design store on 22nd Street near Folsom, features a variety of trinkets: Japanese folding knives, hand-carved slingshots, miniature glamour Polaroids, upscale paintings.
“Things that I would buy,” Jaimie Alexander explains Park Life’s collection, as The Ramones blare in the background. “I would describe it as a museum store that’s boiled down to the very basics.”
Alexander and business partner Derek Song opened their first Park Life on Inner Richmond’s Clement Street in 2006. Before they were business partners, they were customer and shop clerk.
Song, a former corporate salesman and Bay Area Video Coalition intern, was a manager at a book and toy shop in the Haight, where Alexander was a frequent customer. Alexander, a former engineer, shared with Song his interest in opening a book company, and the two eventually collaborated on Park Life. The original plan was to run Park Life as a book publishing company, but it soon evolved into a retail operation.
That store’s success inspired the two owners to open a second location. After scouring the Bay Area for a new space, they eventually chose a residential corner of the Mission District, at 3049 22nd Street, feeling that the neighborhood would “embrace” them. This location opened March of this year.
Though small, the shop packs in a colorful inventory, much of it funny or grotesque—or both. As a legacy of its publishing house roots, Park Life continues to publish one or two books a year, and a table display a variety of books ($10-$15) and periodicals. Many of the publications focus on art and design, with titles such as The Sick Rose: Disease and Art of Medical Illustration.
A wall displays T-shirts ($28) primarily designed in-house; one of them reads, “Politicians make me sick” accompanied by a green-faced boy vomiting. Two other walls offer shelves of housewares, coin purses that resemble hamburgers, and other novelty items. The store also offers original artwork in the $1,000-$2,000 range.
Alexander says sales at the new store have been good, which he attributes in large part to the Richmond store’s name recognition. Alexander also tries to cater to a broad customer base with both inexpensive prints and pricier art pieces. Regardless, some online reviews complain that Park Life is overpriced. Alexander’s response is that critics overlook the quality of the items he sells. “I don’t sell crap,” he says.
Every two weeks Park Life holds events featuring local artists and musicians, which when combined with free beer, attract a hundred people to the small space. In August, Alexander plans to clear out his entire inventory and hold an art show, a model that the Inner Richmond store has pioneered. Park Life will continue to hold events in the shop and sell gallery pieces before switching back to retail in December, in time for Christmas.
Park Life is one of several contemporary art and design shops in the Mission, such as Press Works on Paper on 24th Street and Little Paper Planes on Valencia. “Each shop has its own unique personality” Alexander says. “I say, the more the merrier.”