Women’s Day came early for Eden Stein. On Tuesday, the curator and owner of Secession Art and Design was distinguished by the city with a total of six awards for her leadership in the burgeoning Mission Bernal Neighborhood.
On Tuesday evening, after having returned from a day at City Hall, Stein stood inside her storefront at 3235 Mission St. at the cusp of the Mission and Bernal Heights, flipping through certificates signed by Mayor Ed Lee and California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
The honoree was particularly proud to have been recognized by Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen for “Trailblazing Women in Business and Labor.”
“She’s operating a small business which is really hard to do, and operating a space to support and promote artists, which is another incredibly difficult thing to do in the expensive city that we live in,” said Ronen of Stein.
Stein said the women formed a friendship after a fire at 29th and Mission streets in June destroyed six businesses and displaced some 60 people from a residential hotel located virtually across the street from Stein’s gallery and just a block away from her home.
“She was there in the parking lot Safeway working with the businesses, working with the residents, raising money and using her space at Secession to host community meetings,” said Ronen, referring to the hours after the blaze in which fire victims were tended to by Red Cross in the grocery store’s 30th Street parking lot.
Without much thought, Stein took the lead, offering water to those who stood and watched helplessly as their businesses and homes burned.
Stein asked the victims what they needed and discovered that a young couple with a baby had lost a stroller in the blaze. She told reporters on site to tweet to the community for donations.
Her support didn’t stop when the fire was out.
In the days that followed, Stein rallied local merchants to form the “Mission Bernal Merchants Fire Relief Fund” for those merchants who had lost their stores and livelihoods in the fire. The effort raised a total of $20,000 to help them get on her feet.
Stein said she reacted quickly because, having been displaced from another storefront in the Mission three years ago and with few commercial protections by the city, she knew that “its really, really hard for the merchants to get support and resources.”
Because of her leadership, Stein became somewhat of a point-person in the neighborhood.
“Every time I’ve had a question or an issue, my go-to person is Eden – not any of the dozens of city aides or politicians who handed me their business cards and offered help – because none of them do what Eden has done for our family and our business,” wrote Theresa Keane, of the 3300 Club, in a statement regarding Stein’s award.
Stein said her efforts were fueled by a desire to see her community flourish. “This is where I work and live – my life is this little world.”
Stein has long been involved in efforts aiming to support local artists and strengthen small businesses. At Secession, she curates bi-monthly art shows and gives space to local designers and artists to showcases and sell their work.
She has also been active in rallying the city to amend a traffic control changes that have designated lanes solely for buses and taxis on Mission Street, which merchants say has hurt their businesses by deterring would-be customers.
In an effort to draw shoppers to the street and encourage local business owners to connect with each other, Stein has also spearheaded the Mission Bernal Holiday Walk, now in its second year.
The event, in which local bars, restaurants, galleries and shops offer special activities and entertainment to the community, is sponsored by the Bernal Mission Merchants Association, which Stein heads as president.
The association grew from seven to 40 members under her leadership. Stein said that making a difference in the community is often as easy as “getting out and walking around.”
“You have to just get out of your store, get out of your home, and really make it a point to walk and talk to people,” she said. “It takes a long time to build the trust.”
Stein secured billboard space and advocated for placing a mural in the neighborhood last year –she hopes her next big project to be beautifying the now vacant lot left where Cole’s Hardware and the restaurant Playa Azul stood before the fire.
“In a perfect world I would envision making that block artful … with banners, a facade in front of Playa Azul that says ‘coming back soon,’” said Stein. “Just to give people some hope that something is coming back.”