By Judith Kahn
Gaslight & Shadows Antiques, at Clement Street and 25th Avenue, is a one-of-a-kind antique store. Phyllis Nabhan, the owner since 1976, remembers when there were lots of antique dealers on Clement Street. Her store, now the only one remaining, offers an eclectic mix of items for casual shoppers to serious collectors.
The inventory includes original Bakelite jewelry, vintage and contemporary Mexican handicrafts, along with paintings, Asian art, vintage dolls and toys, ethnic artifacts, magazines, collectibles and clothing. The store also boasts an extensive collection of hand-painted Limoges porcelain boxes from France. Nabhan encourages people to bring items they are ready to part with so that she can sell them on consignment. Having built a loyal customer base over the years, the store has become a local hangout that welcomes dog owners with their pets, along with neighbors who come to meet people, converse and often develop lasting friendships.
Nabhan is Lebanese on both sides of her family. Her parents’ marriage was arranged, and her dad left her mom leaving her with three children in tow, including a brother and sister who are twins. She did not have money to buy anything when growing up but always had a desire for things, and that desire was where her interest in antiques began. This interest developed as she was growing up in the Sunset District. After mowing a neighbor’s lawn, the neighbor sat her in a chair in the living room and taught her about antiques. At Herbert Hoover Junior High and Abraham Lincoln High School, her best girlfriend’s mother collected antiques and often took them to a large antique store in San Francisco; Nabhan fondly remembers the first cameo pin she was given.
From 1970-73 she lived in Afghanistan, designing clothing and buying sheepskin coats to import to the U.S. Nabhan walked through the markets in Kabul that housed rare tribal antiques and several antique stores. On these strolls, she learned what other sellers had and what people wanted to collect. She also discovered books as a rich resource for learning about antiques and price guidelines, adding these to her own library.
In 1966-69, Nabhan worked at the San Francisco Zoo to put herself through college, earning an Associate of Arts degree in photography at City College of San Francisco. In 1969, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts at San Francisco State University. During this time, she managed a novelty and gift store and learned about display, inventory and management of a store. She still takes evening classes at CCSF, working towards a Certificate in Design and Broadcast.
Nabhan had wanted to own an antique store for a long time. In 1976, she walked into a longtime antique store on Clement Street at 17th Avenue. She went to the store’s Realtor the next day and rented the store. Her present location, on Clement at 25th Avenue, was for rent at the same rate, but it was in a better location, so she took it over in 1980. She kept both stores open for two years so she would not lose any customers.
The property owner at the current location had raised the rent every year for the past several years. In 2019, the increase was more than she could afford. She called the Salvation Army and told them she would donate the contents of the store to them. They planned to pick up the entire contents after Christmas and before the end of the year, and Nabhan then began liquidating the store.
When the San Francisco Examiner wrote an article about the store closing, social media took over and the story went viral on Facebook, Nextdoor and Instagram. As the news spread, hundreds of customers and neighbors said how much they would miss her and the store’s presence. They wanted the store to survive. She was stunned by the love and support she received. It touched her heart and made her realize how much she would miss all of the people and the store. When her landlord read the newspaper article, he returned three days later to say he and his wife decided not to raise the rent for a year. They wanted her to stay.
Nabhan said she is extremely grateful for the kindness of the property owner and the support from the community. She loves Gaslight & Shadows and the people that come into the store who make her life happy and fulfilled. She wants to be there six days a week.
In addition to working at her store, Nabhan serves as volunteer coordinator for the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon. She uses her skills in photography restoration, web development, event photography, filmmaking and antique appraising. She even runs her own photo restoration business.
Nabhan’s other interests include gardening, walking, playing the piano, music, dancing, sightseeing in SF, shopping, cooking, movies, event planning, and most of all, people. She is filled with positive energy, preferring to be active at all times. In addition to her many jobs and her business, she also volunteers in several capacities. She is on the board of directors and is the social chair and the volunteer coordinator for Pamakid Runners Club.
Almost weekly, she volunteers at races for the Dolphin South End Runners. She participates in fundraising, homeless outreach and the Harbor Light Center. Nabhan is also enjoys bell ringing and more for the Salvation Army and can also be found volunteering at the San Francisco Turkey Trot, SF Bay to Breakers, Statuto Run, San Francisco Marathon and more.
Nabhan loves the Richmond District, her home for more than 40 years, calling it one of the best neighborhoods in the city and a strong community. After living all over, she feels that San Francisco is the best city in the world. She loves the temperature, fog, Baker Beach, Aquatic Park and Golden Gate Park. She also appreciates that to get downtown from the Richmond takes only 30 minutes by bus or ride share service.
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Categories: Richmond District