It's not vandalism: An impromptu message from management on Mission Thrift's metal shutter reads "Huge closing 1/2 off sale. Next Saturday Noon to 6 p.m. All need to go. Buy By, TY." Photo by Abraham Rodriguez, Dec. 31, 2018.

After 20 years, Mission Thrift is going out of business — the third longtime business on Mission Street between 19th and 20th to announce its closure in the last month alone.

“The last two years have been a nightmare,” said Werner Werwie, the owner of Retro City Fashion, Inc., which runs Mission Thrift, as well as Held Over in the Haight and Mars Mercantile in Berkeley.

During a phone interview, Werwie attributed the closure of his business largely to the loss of its once-steady client base of artists and creative types who value vintage clothing. “What used to be my customer base is not in San Francisco anymore,” he said. “They’ve all moved to Oakland or Oklahoma.”  

Instead, he said, he and his staff have been subjected to more shoplifters and others from off the street who, he claims, harass and make trouble for his employees. Werwie said this has had a “demoralizing” effect on his staff. Last week, he said, he found his manager on the floor, crying, having a breakdown in response to troublemakers and shoplifters repeatedly coming into the store.

“That’s when I said I was done with this nonsense,” Werwie said.

He added that finding employees, let alone retaining them, has also been a struggle, despite reasonable wages (a starting $18 an hour, with paid vacation and bonuses). “It’s a mix of all of the above,” Werwie said.

Mission Thrift began in 1998, and its tall pink sign soon became an icon along the corridor.

Werwie closed Clothes Contact on Valencia in February 2015, when he was stuck with a purported rent hike from $4,000 to $12,000.

The face of the somewhat iconic 2300 block of Mission Street will have a different look in 2019: Siegel’s Clothing Superstore announced its closure this month, and Mission Loan, a pawn shop, will be closing perhaps by year’s end — confirmed to Mission Local by Darryl Kaplan, the owner, who was wounded in a robbery at the shop last December.  

Independent thrift stores are increasingly a dying breed in the Mission, once a thrifting oasis. The two-story Thrift Town shuttered in March 2017 after 45 years, two years after Clothes Contact. And now Mission Thrift is closing its doors. Luckily, the Mission will be getting a Goodwill at 17th and Mission for what looks to be a very long time.

From here on out, Mission Thrift will only be open Saturdays for half-off closing sales, Werwie said, until the last of the merchandise is gone. But he said he’s content to keep open his two remaining thrift stores — Mars and Held Over — as his other four vintage stores have gone out of business.

“It’s sad,” Werwie said. “But then you can’t stop progress or gentrification or whatever you want to call it.”  

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. This sucks. I loved Mission Thrift, and it saw me through a number of very specific outfit events, from sexy sequined merman costume to a black tie tuxedo.

    I’m genuinely going to miss this store, but I dont blame them for going. I’ve seen it get emptier, and the last time I was there two meth heads were prowling around for an hour.

    Mission Thrift did everything right, by its employees and its community. It breaks my heart that this is the reward it got in return.

  2. His store is misaligned with the new customer base but it looks like the ultimate cause was street scum that robbed him.

  3. One armed robbery of a pawn shop, shoplifting on an industrial scale, but in drips and drops, and gentrification? As Dylan sang, “The times, they are a changing,” but, unfortunately, not fast enough.

  4. Gentrification brings troublemakers or shoplifters?
    The shoplifters were probably always there. But more and more crazies and loonies are the curse of San Francisco except perhaps Pacific Heights.

  5. So in this case gentrification is defined as shoplifters and street people harassing employees. Come on guys. Let’s get real. Perhaps if the local gentry of the neighborhood would allow the police to actually police we wouldn’t be in this situation. Perhaps we can consider that this business model is faded and run its course naturally. Too rational?

      1. Exactly. The neighborhood is suffering from an influx of money (techies) raising rents and driving out REAL San Franciscans, not shoplifters, who sadly exist everywhere.