In recent months, Stuff owners Will Lenker and James Spinello said they have been trying to negotiate with the new property owner, Aralon Properties, which bought the building in 2015. The couple is nearing the end of their existing 12-year lease, which runs out in 2024, Spinello said.
“It’s felt very personal to try to keep this going for” the vendors, said Spinello, referring to the 60 vendors who support themselves through their sales at the store. “This is their livelihood.”
After the building’s previous owner passed away, the property was listed at $6.1 million, according to broker advertisements, where it was described as an “excellent investment opportunity” that also held the opportunity for redevelopment and expansion along the “bustling Valencia Street Retail Corridor.”
The Chronicle was unable to reach Thomas Murphy, president of Aralon Properties, which purchased the property. Aralon Properties is a private real estate company in San Francisco that develops and manages commercial real estate, according to its website.
Over the past few months, Lenker and Spinello were under the impression that Aralon Properties was interested in either selling the building to the couple or renting to them after the lease expired. Aralon already has spiked their rent from $20,000 a month to $25,000 a month, Spinello said.
But in the past week, Spinello said he was given two options: Either pay $10 million to buy the building, or pay $75,000 a month in rent, which would come out to $900,000 a year.
Those scenarios will likely make it impossible for Stuff to remain open, Spinello said.
“This is bohemian San Francisco,” said Stuff manager Marty Scibilia, 58, who has been there ever since Lenker hired him on the spot not long after the shop opened. “We have everything from $5 records to a $50,000 vase. To encompass all of that in the word ‘stuff’, was I thought, brilliant.”
When the space first opened, it “literally sucked the air out of every room,” said Judith Thorn, 78, one of the vendors who has been with Stuff the longest and is also the mother of famed podcaster Jesse Thorn. “There was so much power and beauty in one place that a lot of shops closed.”
Judith Thorn, a scholar of hip-hop who previously taught at Santa Rosa Junior College but has struggled to make a living her whole life, said the loss of Stuff is far more than just income — it’s a reality she can’t even imagine.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in America,” she said. “Stuff has hip things, as opposed to stuff that your grandma discarded. If this goes, the city is going down the tube.”
It would be a loss for the long-timers, too, employees say: the customers who come in every day, and the expansive network of collectors and aficionados who make a trip to Stuff a regular part of their lives.
Over the years, actress Jennifer Coolidge, personalities from the Mythbusters, Metallica, Chris Isaac and others have made trips to the store, said Scibilia, who added that Coolidge’s purchases have included ‘creepy dolls’ that she gives out as party favors at her annual Halloween party.
“Will and James set it up with this idea that it was going to be this destination,” said Scibilia, describing the red carpets, the familial feeling, and the upbeat music that’s always ringing through the space. “We all did not want a dusty, dirty antique store.”
Annie Vainshtein (she/her) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @annievain