Philomena in her store.
Philomena in her store. Taken Mar. 31, 2023. Photo by Christina MacIntosh.

Spray paint doesn’t always evoke positive feelings, especially in the Mission these days, as business owners battle the nuisance and cost of persistent graffiti. But Philomena, the owner of À.pe, a curiosity shop at 3386 18th St. that sells spray paint alongside thrifted clothing, locally-sewn backpacks, and carnivorous plants, is making an effort to create spaces for street artists to legally practice their craft.

An artist by training and small business owner for more than a decade, Philomena moved from Humboldt to San Francisco in August, 2020.

“Just when the lockdown happened, I was visiting here pretty often and regularly. And then my life changed drastically,” she said. “I just ended up wanting to make a change. So I came down here and was looking for work.”

In Eureka, Philomena had operated a paint store for six years, then a bar for seven. The latter closed in March, 2020, when the state went into lockdown.

“When I moved down here, you either had to create something for yourself, because it wasn’t like a lot of businesses were hiring, you know, things were kind of done for a minute. So I kind of had to creatively figure out how to employ myself.”

She started looking into leasing a retail space. After touring a few places on Valencia Street that weren’t quite right, she decided on her spot on 18th between Mission and Capp streets.

“I really liked the feeling of the Mission. It still feels really local and family oriented. And diverse and welcoming and creative and artistic. I feel like there’s a lot of beauty and potential here. There’s a lot of authenticity, and I just really appreciate that.”

Through her store, she has created opportunities for spray paint artists to showcase their art.

“The entire time that I’ve been in this space, I’ve been trying to communicate with the building owner across the street, and fortunately, they are allowing us to paint on that building legally,” she said, of a vacant building across the street at 18th and Mission that will eventually become affordable housing for teachers.

She also has two spots for spraying on her own building. They rotate every month, with priority given to women, transgender, and queer artists.

“It helps represent people to have a place to paint,” she said. Though these artworks are generally respected, they also face graffiti as well.

“Most people don’t,” she said, of tagging on the works. “But there are always outliers.”

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Christina grew up in Brooklyn and moved to the Bay in 2018. She studied Creative Writing and Earth Systems at Stanford.

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  1. Welcome to the Mission and thank you for supporting the scene(s)!! I need to make it to your shop, darn it!

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  2. Love this! Phelomena sounds so cool. I wish more buildings and businesses were doing this. I love street art so much. There should be more in SOMA and the financial district where buildings are ugly and lifeless.

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