Exploring and Celebrating Diverse Tastes and Choices, San Francisco-Style

Many months before coffee giant Starbucks became mired in a racial profiling controversy about who could use its restrooms, one student was already exploring the idea that large corporate chains aren’t necessarily as welcoming as small businesses are.

By Ingrid Mera

Downtown San Francisco offers tourists and locals an inspirational environment full of creativity. As people walk down Market Street and head into Union Square, a distinctive sense of style stands out within the sea of people.

“San Francisco definitely has a unique style to it,” said Almas Khan. “Either you agree and love it, or you completely hate it.”

San Francisco’s involvement in the counterculture era in the 1960s plays an important role as to how the city is viewed today.  Many people come into San Francisco with a vision of hippies and unique fashion, which may include vibrant hair dye and out-of-season clothes. Often times, however, people are surprised with what they find as they arrive. Downtown San Francisco, although not part of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that was the root to the counterculture era, has several businesses for people to grasp creativity from. The inspiration comes from the crazy visual displays at store entrances, as well as the performers who play music on buckets outdoors and dance to the sound of their radios every day next to the cable cars on Market Street.

“It’s not something you just see, it’s something you also feel, as you walk down the street,” said Steve Perez.  “You can’t help but notice the energy of the people and the way they choose to express it in their fashion and style. “

Downtown San Francisco is home to several activities that may not be as common in its suburbs. As a person exits the Powell BART station, he or she is often greeted with the sound of drumsticks hitting buckets and a breeze of marijuana mixed with coffee. Since the ‘60s, San Francisco has brought people together through its music and the experimental drug culture. Today, people come together in different areas downtown and share their interests, whether that’s drugs, or creating music using everyday objects.

People often travel to San Francisco to escape the suburbs and enjoy a day filled with food and entertainment they may not find elsewhere. Walking around San Francisco, one may notice the convenience of a Starbucks at seemingly every street corner. Although chains such as Starbucks dot the entire city, some tourists and visitors opt to try what food blogs such as Refinery 29, for instance, recommend when visiting San Francisco. Take Blue Bottle Coffee and Philz Coffee, for example. People who visit San Francisco are often looking for a change in their everyday routine, and look for new things to try.

“There are so many Starbucks back at home,” said Perez of Tracy. “I want to branch out and try something else when leaving my hometown.”

Furthermore, such food and beverage purveyors generally make sanitation and hygiene important priorities. According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, businesses such as Blue Bottle Coffee and Philz Coffee scored moderate and low risk in keeping their areas clean, compared with Starbucks, which rated as high risk. Small businesses have proved great experiences for tourists who are looking for the San Francisco-style service, as they look to attract customers back on subsequent visits. These small businesses contrast with large chains in customer interactions and in cleanliness.

“I would say it’s the customer service,” said Khan. “They ask you to taste it and see how you like it or if you would like it more sweet, as compared to Starbucks, you just order and leave.”

Although food often makes up a great deal of the things to do in San Francisco, it is important to point out the fashion that roams around the city. San Francisco has created an environment for people to feel comfortable being themselves as its diversity creates an acceptance in the choice of clothing and music. Walking down Market Street, a person visiting San Francisco will quickly learn that people are not afraid to express themselves through their outfits.  Popular trends involving fashion often times include bright colors, thrift store finds and the sneaker trend that took over in the last five years.

“San Francisco fashion versus anywhere I’ve ever lived is much more carefree,” said Marissa Boling. “People don’t care what you think of them. They wear what looks dope to them and they rock it!”

The idea of using fashion to express one’s self has become a spreading trend across large cities such as San Francisco.  Style has allowed people to showcase their mood, favorite color and music taste through their choice in apparel. Regardless of the weather, people will wear what they believe expresses them best.

“I enjoy wearing clothes that are trending, but I also like to stand out and wear items that I don’t see other people wearing,” said Crystal Guinto. “I love thrift shopping because I can find unique pieces of clothing.”

San Francisco showcases its love for art as retail stores across the downtown area present visual displays in windows. They inspire people to shop there in order to create that same artistic value in their wardrobe. Nike Inc. is one of many retailers with creative campaigns. Campaigns and advertisements are often ways that retailers catch a consumer’s eye, especially in a location with many tourists. The BETRUE collection released by Nike earlier this year filled the city with colorful posters and endorsements for their pride collection. The BETRUE collection hit close to home as San Francisco has been like a mecca for the LGBT community nationally. Nike provided several other displays inside their retail shop located near the Union Square, which helped push their sneaker collection.

“My favorite trend is the sneaker trend,” said Guinto, who previously worked for Converse, under the Nike Inc. umbrella. “In fact, I collect sneakers. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked and can’t go without them.”

Although several large cities across the country provide consumers and tourists with similar experiences, San Francisco continues to provide a welcoming environment with its acceptance and diversity of people of different backgrounds. The community welcomes people with its creativity and the idea that one can be one’s true self when visiting the large city by wearing vibrant colors and mismatched patterns and visiting new coffee shops.

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