Benny Gold Pens a Heartfelt Letter to San Francisco Before the Tech Boom

The streetwear stalwart looks back at the struggles of running an independent brand in one of America’s most desirable cities.

44,936 Hypes 0 Comments

I remember the fear I felt when opening our first retail store. I was living in San Francisco’s Mission District with my wife and working out of our small apartment. If I wasn’t working, I was skateboarding. Life was simple and good. But as the brand caught on and demand increased, the boxes began piling up and finally my wife insisted I establish an official workspace. That was scary because up until that point I had no overhead — any profit after production and shipping went into my pocket. But back then the Mission was largely overlooked compared to other areas of San Francisco, making it a locals’ neighborhood with lower housing costs that attracted creatives. An independent artist or entrepreneur could take a chance and do their own thing. SF was an affordable city compared to New York and other metropolitan areas, making it attractive for people like me.

Benny Gold San Francisco Memoir

The entrance to the Benny Gold flagship store.

However, SF’s population has skyrocketed recently, with the city adding 28,500 new residents between 2000 and 2010. There just isn’t enough housing for everyone, so even the largely overlooked neighborhoods like the Mission are now bursting at the seams. The Mission also has easy freeway access, making it convenient for people working in Silicon Valley to be shuttled back and forth by tech buses.

Since I started the Benny Gold brand, I have seen most of my peers relocate their business to Los Angeles in search of lower rents and employee wages, and an easier environment to run an independent brand. We are one of the last streetwear brands still operating in SF. Maybe I am too stubborn or I just love SF too much to move solely for financial reasons. Six years ago, I was able to secure a space for $1,500 USD and only a few blocks from my apartment, which is unheard of now in San Francisco. My rent is now six times that at our new store, which is located only one block from our original location.

Opening a flagship store when we did turned out to be the best move we could’ve made. It helped create excitement and a sense of community around the brand. It put us on the map basically. We had taken the leap from pet project to legitimate brand and people took notice. We built a small team to help manage the workload and eventually moved into an even larger retail space and a separate warehouse to handle mail orders and house our design studio. We are now in our seventh year of owning and operating our flagship store in the Mission District and have moved the studio and warehouse into an old pawn shop downtown after a fire broke out in a neighboring unit. I really don’t think all of this would have been possible if we hadn’t taken a leap back when we did.

The neighborhood has grown around us. It went from being one of those laid-back neighborhoods where everyone knows each other to one of the most desirable locations in the city. With the influx of Silicon Valley tech workers, everything has become more expensive, from commercial rents all the way down to the cost of a cup of coffee. I try my best to not judge people, but you can definitely spot a new SF resident from the back of any line at a hip Mission coffee spot. The people that were attracted to SF were part of various countercultures like skateboarding, punk or street art. We’ve since traded in our band T-shirts and well-worn jeans for Google and Dropbox tees and a pleated pair of Dockers. I embrace change and try to not reminisce about the past, but the bygone days of punk shows and skateboarding will always hold a special place in my heart.

Benny Gold San Francisco Memoir

Inside the Benny Gold store.

It’s a natural progression — the more desirable a place gets, the higher the cost of living, never mind operating an independent business. Some may assume that more people in the city equals more people shopping in brick-and-mortar stores like ours, but that’s not the reality. Sales are down in physical retail stores all over America due to online shopping options offering highly competitive prices and free expedited shipping. It is very difficult for an independent to compete with that. I have no regrets about making my brand accessible to people. I still strongly believe in the community that is cultivated through retail stores, but it will be a shame if physical brick-and-mortar stores disappear due to brands focusing solely on online sales. At one point we will have to put down our phones and step away from our computers to actually interact with people again. The commercial market does not reflect the current state of retail, leaving landlords demanding exorbitant rents and offering only short term leases. Our lease was up at the beginning of this year at our Mission location. My heart sank when I got the letter from our landlord notifying us that they were doubling the rent, and we aren’t even in a high-traffic area! The customer no longer has a need to visit a brand’s flagship store when they can conveniently shop from anywhere on their phones — the technology has changed the landscape completely and you have to adapt or you’ll be put out of business.

It was difficult to keep my cool with the landlord situation. We’ve built something special here that I feel contributes to the community and a part of me felt entitled to some leniency. If only there was some sort of commercial rent control to keep the business in the neighborhood that has helped to popularize it in the first place, but there’s nothing like that. I had to take a step away from my emotions and start to plan my next move. We couldn’t simply double the price of our product and hope for the best. I started to look around for a new location which had me wondering whether the cost of doing business in this city might finally be unsustainable for us. Many people suggested that I close the shop and focus on wholesale, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It’s important for the soul of our brand to have a physical space for people to gather and get excited about a new release or special event. Those independent mom-and-pop music stores and skate shops were critical to my youth, and so much of my personal aesthetic and lifelong friendships were formed in places like this. It’s always been the driving force behind our brand, to preserve that sense of community and expression. It’s what’s allowed us to steadily evolve as a lifestyle brand.

Benny Gold San Francisco Memoir

Benny Gold with wife Hiromi and their children.

We’ve made the decision to go all in. In a time when retail stores seem to be closing all around us, we have secured a new location on the main drag with a lot more foot traffic. This new space means more overhead cost than ever before. I had to take out a substantial loan to make it all happen. I’m also rethinking our entire retail model in the attempt to ensure a unique and meaningful shopping experience that isn’t possible online. We are adding a cafe and creative hangout space within our new retail store. We want it to be a place where people can be inspired and encourage others to be creative. I will personally hold office hours in the cafe where aspiring designers and brand owners can come bounce ideas off of me or at least share a cup of coffee together. Much like the human experience, as a business grows and matures, it’s put up against a series of tests. When you hit a wall, you either climb over it or you get left behind. If you don’t believe in yourself and invest in your vision then you can’t expect anyone else to. You can only be responsible for your own actions and do your best to create something positive. Honestly I don’t have an end goal — I am just enjoying the act of creating and I’m thankful to be where I am even with all of our current business challenges.

Follow us on Snapchat as we build our new retail home on Valencia Street — and Stay Gold.

Read Full Article
Benny Gold

Join Our Discussions on Discord

The HYPEBEAST Discord Server is a community where conversations on cultural topics can be taken further.

100 Users Online

What to Read Next

Ben Affleck Teases the DC Extended Universe's Latest Villain

Ben Affleck Teases the DC Extended Universe's Latest Villain

Is Deathstroke coming to ‘Justice League’ or Affleck’s own standalone Batman film?

THE PARK · ING GINZA to Drop Exclusive Bearbricks This September

THE PARK · ING GINZA to Drop Exclusive Bearbricks This September

THE PARK · ING GINZA links up with Virgil Abloh, Jun Takahashi and Hiroshi Fujiwara himself.

Take a Look at the Latest "Givenchy Essentials" Capsule Collection Video

Take a Look at the Latest "Givenchy Essentials" Capsule Collection Video

Eye-catching designs that draw influences from Japanese culture.

The adidas Originals NMD's Stripes Get a Tricolor Makeover

The adidas Originals NMD's Stripes Get a Tricolor Makeover

The next best thing to the OG pair?

He's Back: Justin Bieber Returns to Instagram

He's Back: Justin Bieber Returns to Instagram

The fickle pop star just couldn’t stay away.

The 'KENZO World' Film Directed by Spike Jonze Stars Margaret Qualley Dancing Like a Possessed Soul

The 'KENZO World' Film Directed by Spike Jonze Stars Margaret Qualley Dancing Like a Possessed Soul

Created for the launch of the French label’s new fragrance.

More ▾
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Help us serve you better

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads, where we can share contents from the latest fashion, to those culturally relevant. In adding HYPEBEAST to your ad blocker's whitelist, ads on our sites will show while you continue to browse.

Help Support Us

We need ads to keep the lights on and to continue providing free news to our readers. We’d appreciate your support by whitelisting HYPEBEAST on your ad blocker. That way you can keep reading all the great stories for free.

If you have already whitelisted us, simply refresh this page. To find out how to whitelist us, click the button below.


Add Us to Whitelist

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads. Most ad blockers have similar whitelisting steps and settings. If you need assistance, please contact us.

Adblock Plus

  1. Click on the red ABP icon in the upper right corner of your browser.
  2. Click “Enabled on this site” to disable ad blocking for the current site. In Firefox click “disable on HYPEBEAST”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.


  1. Click the AdBlock hand icon.
  2. Click “Don’t run on pages on this domain”.
  3. A new “Don’t run AdBlock on…” dialog may be displayed in the middle of the screen.
  4. Move the “Site” slider to the right. After that, click “Exclude”.
  5. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.


  1. Click the uBlock icon.
  2. Click the large blue “power” button in the menu that appears to whitelist the current website.
  3. Reload the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

Firefox Browser

Firefox Tracking Protection may activate our whitelist notice, which can be disabled temporarily for a browsing session by clicking the shield icon in the URL bar and following the instructions.


  1. Click the Disconnect icon.
  2. Click “Whitelist site”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.