The two white couches on display at Viracocha.

On a ledge above Viracocha’s window display at 998 Valencia Street, sit two white couches side by side.

They have been upholstered, rebuilt and deemed rare antique objects worth no less than $10,000 each, according to Jonathan Siegel who acquired them from a friend who owned a furniture store on Valencia and 20th.

Selling one couch would cover a month’s rent. However, selling a couch involves a skill that Siegel says he lacks: he is not a salesman. He does, however, have a sense of showmanship and community that has carried him through four years in which he’s managed to keep the store open by relying on friends and other artists for repairs, staffing and participating in events.

This fall, Siegel announced that he was looking for someone to take over and that he was ready to move on. While that is still the case, Siegel’s process of leaving has been slow, sure and as idiosyncratic as the store itself.

The inside of Viracocha.

Its one consistent source of revenue, the downstairs venue, was closed at the end of December because it did not have the proper permitting. So Siegel is now trying to figure out if bringing the space up to code is a matter of a “40 grand” job — one his contracting team will do for beer and pizza — or a “400 grand” job, which makes no sense since he doesn’t own the space.

He does however, have six years left on his $10,000 a month lease and an option for another five years.

That stability, he hopes, will make it attractive to new leadership — most appealingly to him a collective leadership of other people who can take the business endeavor seriously and go through the bureaucratic process of permitting.

“If there is no one really willing to believe or take it on with a great deal of responsibility, it’s going to have to shut regardless,” says Siegel, who could shut it down at any time.

He has met and talked to people who have businesses in the Mission and desire the vibe of Valencia Street. “I want people I know and can trust, not just people with money to open up a restaurant,” he says.

From the start, Viracocha’s business model has been different.

“The store was created as a fallout shelter in case an impending cataclysmic doom happened,” Siegel said of his initial opening. “I had some time, a little money because an investment panned out. I wanted to at least have a place where we could all congregate, learn more about each other, of the period instead of running and being scared. [To know] that there was love and friendship. My hope was to bring people from different walks of lives to feel less alone.”

In addition to his friends who contribute their time, Viracocha has also relied on private investors, mainly people in finance and commercial real estate who Siegel met in New York when he was an actor and produced plays. His landlord has also been lenient on late payments.

However, reality is setting in or as Siegel puts it “in order for this to become a legitimate operation, in order for this to move forward it will have to become a business.”

Legitimizing the downstairs space is contingent on what the inspectors say. In the meantime, the permitting process has not been able to begin because there is not a clear evaluation of what has to be done, nor whose name will continue to lead and follow through on all the paperwork.

To economize he has cut his staff from 16 people to two and depends on volunteers. “It’s like you are sitting on a lame duck; you have this space but you have all the space downstairs that can be used but it’s prohibited by the city of San Francisco.”

As for the couches that could cover each month’s rent, perhaps it would be wiser to make them face the street, instead of having them displayed above eye-level inside the store. That way deep-pocket buyers who have no time for the arts but enjoy beautiful things, might see them as they walk along Valencia Street.

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Andrea was born and raised in Mexico City, where she graduated as a translator/interpreter. She has been working with Mission Local since 2009 translating content for the Spanish page. Also lives in the Mission, does some reporting, social media and enjoys taking photos and training people that want to contribute to Mission Local.

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    1. I’m unclear as to your message. Berkeley did not drop Mission Local. The dean asked if I wanted to take it private as he wants to move the school away from geographically-based journalism. The school’s other two hyperlocals have a much smaller readership and the school will no longer be staffing them during the breaks. I could not see having a hyperlocal that was not staffed year round so I decided that separating it from the school was the best option. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re excited about the prospects. Best, Lydia

  1. Lydia,

    It has come to my attention that despite Mission Local’s broad disclaimer, you have referenced in commentary, my first name. And done so publicly.

    You could not have done this had you not referenced my comments from the back end to determine my identity.

    I would have found it more advisable had you contacted me directly should you wish an interview (which would have been most boring, I assure you). Indeed you could have contacted me directly via Missionlocal’s database. And I would have replied. But you chose not to do so.

    Although I am not entirely adverse to going public with my opinions on this site, I find it troubling that you have chosen to do so as the Editor of without my consent.

    This calls into question your journalistic integrity; and I have the print screen documentation to prove it.

    So now that you have made it clear as to whom I am via first name I shall choose to do so publicly via middle and family name:

    NFS = Neil Forrest Simonsen

    Shame on you Lydia; I’d have thought with that Berkeley education you’d have known better.

    1. Neil, citing your first name did not “make it clear whom you are”, since a first name never uniquely identifies someone, and especially with a common name like yours.

      And even that assumes that you gave ML your real first name rather than, say, a nom de plume.

      I agree that private information like that should not be revealed. But the error was trivial until you chose to provide your full name. That’s like complaining that your area code was revealed and then giving us the other seven digits.

      A simple solution would be to start using a new “ML name” along with an email address that does not identify you.

  2. “I wanted to at least have a place where we could all congregate, learn more about each other, of the period instead of running and being scared.”

    I’m confused, isn’t this a furniture store? What would these people be scared of? Are their gangs running around accosting folks that like period furniture?

    Dude, you could have people over for some triscuits and a beer in your living room and save $10,000/month in rent.

  3. $10,000/month rent prohibits beautiful, creative operations like Viracocha. That’s $333/day… EVERY day of the month, which must go towards rent.

    If the desired state is an interesting city where ideas and experimentation flow freely (it is for me), then rents are an order of magnitude too high.

    1. Someone was crowing recently about how awesome the High Line park was in NYC with not a concern in the world about the crucible of interesting culture, a lot of it queer, that it supplanted….the experience economy packages up simulacra of interestingness devoid of any threat and resells it to those who can’t be bothered to take a cultural risk.

      1. Condo development in the meat packing district associated with the rise of the High Line Park eradicated historical gay male culture in that neighborhood.

      2. You guys are fucking ridiculous. I open an article about a business on Valencia Street, and read a back and forth about Chelsea and the meatpacking district.

        Exchange email addresses, get a room or a hot tub, do something, but stop ruining these comment pages.

        1. Except of course that the High Line Park did not displace anybody. It was an existing, unused right-of-way and no homes were demolished to create the park, nor people displaced.

    1. If you hate Mission Local so much, why do you read it? Are you a masochist, or do you just like to piss in other people’s pools?

      1. I just think it’s funny that every article blames tech workers except the one blatantly soliciting money.

        1. It’s now redundant to point out that the Surveillance/Advertising industry is to blame for astronomical rents – everybody knows that already.

          1. Perhaps temporarily prices might rise slower, but probably not. The best that might happen is that prices slow their increase. We will be left with the worst of all worlds, an over built expensive unlivable city with high housing prices.

          2. Actually Marcos has a great idea. Instead of compelling landlords to stay in business with financially ruinous exit clauses why not let the city use it’s affordable housing funds to buy out buildings at risk of Ellis acting at fair market value? The city would finally put its money where it’s mouth is.

          3. Missionite, yes I have long suggested that these tenant activists should organize funding to buy rental properties that a landlord no longer wishes to own and manage.

            The fund would have to pay the market price for the property, of course. But the point is that there should be no problem raising the finance if the building is viable as a rental with the existing tenants.

            While if it not viable, then why would anyone expect the landlord to continue running it anyway?