The interior of Siegel's Clothing Superstore feels like a museum, a spectacle, and Iceberg Slim's overstuffed closet. We're gonna miss it when it's gone. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

The merchandise is packed into Siegel’s Clothing Superstore like meat stacked into an overstuffed deli sandwich. This is a big store specializing in selling big suits, and it’s hard to overstate just how many of them there are in here.

Every rack is tightly crammed with blazers and pants in colors befitting the Jell-O aisle. Hundreds of accompanying hats range from Lewis Carroll nightmare to Samuel L. Jackson casual wear. There’s an organizational system here, but the sheer mass of goods at hand is overwhelming. This is what a menswear shop would look like if it was operated by the Collyer brothers of hoarding fame.

When you walk into a big place with individual character, a fantastic array of eclectic merchandise, and a small army of staffers damn-near immediately asking “You need help, Hombre?” one can’t help but think “I can’t believe this place is still around in the Mission.”

Come January, it won’t be. After 91 years on-site, Siegel’s is abruptly closing down.

In September, Michael Gardner, who operated the shop for more than 40 years, told Mission Local‘s Julian Mark that its building, listed for $6.5 million, would be taken off the market. It wasn’t for sale. And, even if it did sell, he pledged “Siegel’s is not going anywhere.”

Last month, the building sold. And, now, the signs plastered on the walls and windows pledge a “Huge one million dollar inventory liquidation.” Everything must go: “LIQUIDATING TO THE BARE WALLS!!”

“Everything must go” is a painfully familiar sentiment for the predominantly Latino Mission-dwellers (and ex-Mission-dwellers) who kept Siegel’s a viable business — until it wasn’t. Many of them went, too.

At the end, Siegel’s business model was to sell clothes that people in the Mission used to wear to people who used to live in the Mission.

The erasure of this neighborhood’s working-class Latinos and the local businesses they ran and supported is steady, ongoing, and, perhaps most painful of all, feels more and more inevitable. Nobody was surprised by the demise of yet another longstanding Mission institution; we’ve become inured to such news.

The loss of Siegel’s, however, staggered people. And that’s because, more so than the many other much-lamented defunct Mission businesses, this place was, by design, irreplaceable. This isn’t a “they don’t make ’em like they used to” situation. They never made them like this. 

Like Kaplan’s Sporting Goods on Market, Siegel’s was a one-of-its-kind establishment that recalled a different, happier, more personable era — but was, also, unique in any era. It was also, like Kaplan’s, so old that it had seemingly always been old. And always been there.

Siegel’s was the place where you could get everything. It was a place that, pun intended, had woven itself into the fabric of the Mission. Now, that community and culture are fraying. So is Siegel’s.

Everything must go.

Siegel’s storefront with closing signs. Dec. 10, 2018. Photo by Julian Mark.

Roberto Hernandez is 62 years old and has lived in the Mission his entire life. The number of items he’s bought at Siegel’s is incalculable. As is the number of times he’s walked past. But, “to this day, I stare at the window and look at all the zoot suits every single time. I don’t care how much of a hurry I’m in,” he says. “I stop and stare at the clothes. Every single time.”

Siegel’s looms behind nearly every element of Latino Mission life. John Nuño, Jr. and Samuel Reveles, now 50 and 53, and relocated to Los Angeles and Daly City, respectively, first went there with their families to buy uniforms for St. Peter’s School.

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“My tux rental for my first wedding — I got it there,” 47-year-old bus driver Daniel Salazar tells me. Construction worker Leroy Bermudez grew up around the corner from “The Latino Men’s Wearhouse” and just bought a suit there last month; he wanted to look classy when he surprised his 10-year-old daughter by taking her to an Ozuna concert. Twenty-five years earlier, Siegel’s was the place he went when, like many Mission dwellers, he wanted to look classy by dressing just like Cypress Hill.  

By being all things to all people, Siegel’s managed the impressive feat of changing while staying the same. After the Luis Valdez play and movie Zoot Suit came out in the late 1970s, Mission dwellers stampeded to Siegel’s to buy them. Even now, autographed glossy photos of Latin and swing musicians are plastered to the walls, lauding the “best zoot suits on the West coast.”

At almost the same time that fans of Zoot Suit were buying zoot suits, shoppers swarmed Siegel’s to buy Pendleton shirts like the ones the actors wore in Boulevard Nights (1979). So, you could walk in and buy your Pendletons and Derby jackets made just over the hill at the factory on Potrero or you could buy your zoot suits; you could buy your Stacy Adams shoes in lollipop colors or you could buy your “wino shoes;” you could buy your pachuco-style clothing or clothes that wouldn’t look out of place in a lumberyard.

You could do all of these things. But the common denominator is “walk in.” Gardner didn’t return messages left on the phone or in person for this story, but he had purportedly complained, loudly, that there were weekdays when nobody walked into his store. “My kids never had the experience of going to Siegel’s, because you can buy everything online now,” concurs Reveles. “And a lot of us moved away.”

Like many Mission merchants, Gardner reportedly despised the red transit lanes expediting bus routes. He apparently liked to recount a story in which he was forced to run out of the store and transact business with an out-of-town customer who could not find parking; the driver handed over the money and Gardner handed over the merchandise right there on the curbside.

And yet, this anecdote reveals bigger problems than transit lanes and parking. When thousands of Latinos are economically banished from the city and your business relies upon these people, any problems brought about by red lanes seem to be akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back.

One should be wary of focusing on the straw at the expense of all the weight that preceded it.

Salazar, who drives the 14 and 49, rolls past Siegel’s daily in those red lanes. On the weekend, he does the same in his ’66 Buick Skylark lowrider. 

He has a closet full of clothes he bought here and even a few fancy suits in storage. But those, like memories of a bygone Mission, are fading with age.

“I think we’re going to lose a lot more” establishments like Siegel’s, he says. “But I won’t be pushed out. I have my house. I will die here.”  

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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13 Comments

  1. I blame RENT CONTROL for a lot of bad things, but contributing to people being displaced is #1. If you think of renting as temporary (as it is defined in the dictionary) you know that you should save up and buy your own place. Latinos had many years to buy at historically cheap prices. But why buy, if you get cheap below market rent, courtesy of the power of the government straight jacketing your landlord? Why give up a one sided good deal? So you stay for cheap rent, and never build wealth for your family. A good friend of mine’s family was evicted from their Mission flat 25 years ago, they bought a small house in San Bruno for $265,000 …..now it’s worth 1.2 million ! Eviction was the best thing that EVER happened to them !

    1. You’re absolutely correct. Rent control and official S.F. hostility to landlords is why I won’t rent out the other unit in my duplex. It’s just not worth the risk. My neighbors also have units which they won’t rent for the same reason. Ask yourself how rent control helps to house San Franciscans. It doesn’t. No credible economists think that rent control achieves the results it purports to serve. Instead, it has become a “progressive” shibboleth to be worshiped as an article of blind (and dumb) faith. It’s just another unquestioned fallacy.

      1. Your comment is so much more compelling and intellectually developed than….. BS, pfft or dumb. So much for the critical thinking of the “progressive” masses.

    1. Sir or madam —

      You can find Ben Davis up and down the Mission corridor and, especially, at Arik’s. But there’s no place with the manic selection of Siegel’s.

      Best,

      JE

  2. Everyone who still wears, or ever wore a zoot suit, please raise your hand. Pin-striped or brightly colored zoot suit, go ahead, and raise your hand…I thought so. No one.
    Unless you’re in show business, no one is buying them. But don’t get me wrong, reading about Siegels closing was still a punch in the gut for me. I mean, that place has been here my whole life! Unfortunately, it’s another sign of the times. And for once, none of us can honestly blame rent control, or gentrification, or even the evil techies that are moving in and destroying the flavor of our beloved Mission District. I did read in this article that Roberto Hernandez stated that he used to shop there in the past, too many times to count, but now only looks in the windows as he walks by. Why? because nothing in the store appeals to his 62 year old style!!! I probably trade there more than most of you readers because I wear Bens, and Carharts for work clothes, and I buy them there, just like in the past. My parents bought my Jr. High graduation suit there in 1965, but I can’t remember ever buying my kids clothes there. As we all know, times change. I still miss walking by Granat Brothers Jewelers and watching the craftsman designing in the window. Bruno’s had killer Italian food, with waiters in tux coats, and exhibition cooking. Fantastic! Jet’s Giants Burgers on 19th and Valencia. The Best. All gone. No one’s fault, really…Times and taste change, people just move on. You write about John Nuno Jr. and Samuel Revels. They now live in Los Angels, and Daly City. I’m sure that careers, and a chance to own may have something to do with them not living here. It’s not alway sinister. In your story you also state that the owner Mr. Gardner complained loudly that several days would go by and no one would walk in. What kind of business could sustain that for any length of time? Maybe some of us should have done more that just window shop as we walked by. And to you, Joe Eskenazi: I really have to take issue with you and your little drama paragraph about the red transit lanes. (I hate them too). But you turned that into the Calle 24 dialog about the banishment of Latinos, and Latino businesses in the District. That was weak and untrue. I also believe in truth in reporting, so I am asking you here, and now, are you a member of Calle 24? Are you in anyway associated with that organization? This is not the first time in your articles that you have interjected their opinions into your stories. So, I’m just asking, are you both and employee of Mission Local, and an associate of Calle 24? That could explain the tenor of your articles.

    1. Dear sir or madam:

      This is a thoughtful comment, with three notable exceptions.

      First, at no point does the article ever say or imply that Roberto Hernandez stopped shopping at Sigel’s. He still does.

      Second, I’m not sure how you inferred any conflation between red lanes and economic banishment of Latinos. That took some effort. Rather, the point being made — clearly, I felt — was that when your business depends on Latino customers, and tens of thousands of them have been priced out of the neighborhood, that’s a much bigger factor than red lanes could ever be.

      Finally, your asking me “here and now” if I’m a member of Calle 24 and if I’m clandestinely injecting Calle 24’s views into my Mission Local articles is among the most bizare and ridiculous and wildly misinformed questions I’ve ever been asked. I’m also not sure why you chose to frame it as if you were an inquisitor at a HUAC hearing.

      Best,

      JE

  3. Red lanes are the best thing to happen to Mission street in years. Yay for community serving mass transit and boo to apologists for macho gas guzzling car culture (1965 Buick anyone?).

  4. Thanks for your report Joe.

    I am sorry to say, but my interpretation of this article is similar to what Missionite Native described.

    I also agree with him in regards to other articles written by you. Please note that I have read lots of great reporting articles by you too.

    English is not my first language, so I tend to interprete things literally & w/o nuance. That said, it might be worth to consider if the language used in an article could be construed by the reader as trying to show bias to an specific point of view, instead of just reporting?

    1. Ms. Pereira — 

      Thanks for your measured and thoughtful response.

      I write a reported column. That means that, while I am doing reporting, I do express my point of view. That’s what a reported column is. I didn’t invent this form of journalism.

      As far as Calle 24, it is a laughably off-the-mark claim that I am parroting their point of view, let alone on their payroll (They weren’t thrilled about my column describing their proposed boycott of Cinderella Bakery as reductive, blunt, and misguided — but it’s not my job or goal to make any one group happy). It is, frankly, naive and insulting to insinuate that a journalist espousing a point of view different from your own must be on the take.

      If you want to talk about this more give me a call. I’m easy to find.

      Best,

      JE

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