By Erin Bank
Imagine what the commercial corridors of Judah, Noriega, or Taraval streets would look like if the walls of the buildings were removed, allowing free movement between the shops, restaurants and community spaces.
That is the vibe Angie Pettit-Taylor is hoping to create at the Sunset Wellness Mercantile, an outdoor merchant corridor on 37th Avenue between Ortega and Pacheco streets.
Pettit-Taylor is co-founder of the Sunset Mercantile, which is responsible for the popular Sunday farmers market at the same location.
The idea was born when Pettit-Taylor learned that the Star Dance Studio couldn’t occupy its usual indoor location at 300 Moraga St., under guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had already been thinking of ways to use the space beyond the farmers market, and she wondered if there were other merchants in need of outdoor space during the pandemic.
Pettit-Taylor met this need by expanding the closure of the block of 37th Avenue between Ortega and Pacheco streets to include weekdays and Saturdays, calling it the Sunset Wellness Mercantile. The “Wellness” in the name reflects Pettit-Taylor’s goal of providing a place for well-being for both individuals and the community at large.
“Creating the space was motivated by the pandemic,” she said. “There was an apparent need for outdoor space.”
Every day has different programming, which is posted on the Sunset Mercantile website (link at end of story).
On a blustery Saturday, a martial arts class was in full swing. The younger kids, who were waiting for their older siblings to finish their class, were able to chase each other around the space, which is closed off to cars. Parents easily maintained six feet of space while they chatted and watched their kids.
Nearby, an outdoor yoga class wrapped up, and the students spent some time chatting and helping each other with their poses. Leading this class was Aubree Gilbert, who through her new business, Mindful Skulls, offers mediation, yoga and other mindfulness practices. She also has available essential oils with ingredients sourced from local farmers.
“I’ve become friends with other vendors, and the mutual support is so important,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great sense of community and connection, especially now during the pandemic.”
As they came and went, people could grab wood-fired pizza for lunch from the Mozzeria food truck, founded by a deaf San Franciscan couple, Melody and Russ Stein. Until now, food trucks have been the only way to bring in food vendors, but Pettit-Taylor said she has obtained permitting to allow other pop-up food vendors to set up shop in the space, which she anticipates will happen in May. Pettit-Taylor hopes the ability to share a meal or cup of coffee together will encourage people to linger and interact.
There is also a stage, consisting of a large woven rug. Kevin North, music director for the Sunset Mercantile, and former manager of Sunset Soccer, set up his guitar and provided background music for the space. Pettit-Taylor welcomes any musician or entertainer to the stage to perform.
“We don’t want to compete with local brick-and-mortar vendors,” Pettit-Taylor said.
Instead, the space is a sort of extension of local businesses, giving them outdoor space to hold events, classes or workshops. Sunset neighborhood brick-and-mortar establishments receive a discount on the vendor fees for the space. There is also a casual space on the Pacheco side of the block that is not rented out by vendors. It can be used by anyone to practice skateboarding tricks or learn how to ride a bike.
The entire block is bordered on the east by a greenway between 37th Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, allowing space for picnicking.
How the vendors use the space is really up to them, Pettit-Taylor explains. She doesn’t have an agenda of her own; instead, she wants to let vendors drive what the space will be and what they want.
“The community will shape it,” Pettit-Taylor said. “I don’t know what to expect!”
She has already seen guitar lessons, a recurring Senior Power event with artists, readings and classes, plus dance and other sports practice sessions. The Sunset Cooperative Nursery School will be holding their annual Spring Market fundraiser on May 8, to coincide with Mother’s Day weekend. A Second-Hand Saturdays flea market is getting started. Pettit-Taylor is open to ideas and community involvement and will work with vendors on a sliding scale to allow them to try out the space.
Since it started in February 2021, the Wellness Mercantile has been slow to grow and isn’t yet self-sustaining through vendor fees. Costs include shutting the street down, on-site staff, garbage, and portable bathroom services. Although the Sunday farmers market has some financial support from District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, the new Wellness Mercantile does not have the same allocation. Pettit-Taylor is hopeful that, as the neighborhood learns about the space and as food vendors are able to participate, the space will start to pay for itself.
“It will work out,” said Pettit-Taylor.
Categories: Sunset District