Benny moved to San Francisco the day after receiving his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design in 1998. Talent plus hustle opened doors for him at some of the Bay Area’s top design firms and ad agencies. Benny Gold (the brand) started taking shape through side projects Gold worked on at night or on weekends.
As demand grew for the stickers and graphic T-shirts Gold produced in his spare time, he started investing more time in building his brand into a business. Around 2008, inventory had begun to overwhelm his house. “The T-shirt business started getting bigger and bigger and my home office got cluttered with product,” Gold says. “When it spilled out into the dining room and eventually the living room, my wife was like, ‘You’ve got to get all of this stuff out of here.’ So I started looking for a space.”
Requirements for that first space were fairly straightforward. Gold needed office space to do design work—both for his own projects as well as select jobs for corporate clients, which he continued to take on until 2010—and warehouse space to house inventory. A retail storefront wasn’t originally in the plan.
“I walk my dog to the local coffee shop in the morning, and there’s this Art Deco-looking building I’ve always loved that we walk past every day,” Gold explains. “One day it had a ‘For Rent’ sign on it, so I just called them up and rented. The storefront gave me the idea to do a little pop-up shop for new releases, and they were more successful than I expected, so I figured I’d let the store keep going.”
While Gold loved the space and its proximity to his home, the business began to outgrow it quickly. With retail now a priority, he began looking for a location with more foot traffic. Within a year he relocated to the current home of the Benny Gold store in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. The retail store eventually forced the business side of the business (design, sales, shipping, etc.) out of that space. In 2014, those functions found a new home in a former pawnshop in the nearby South of Market neighborhood.
Benny Gold is an American skate and streetwear brand and boutique that sells menswear, sportswear, footwear, skateboards, hats and accessories; founded by Benny Gold, in 2007. The full range is mostly comprised of handmade jackets, Japanese-made windbreakers, fleece-wear, button-down shirts, graphic T-shirts, and accessories like skate decks, bags, hats and caps. The brand has collaborated with other clothing and accessory companies like JanSport.
Why Benny Gold is closing his street-wear brand and Valencia store
Gold followed up the announcement of the closure with a recent Instagram post that he would be joining San Francisco advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Social media posts have been a preferred method of disseminating information about the brand for Gold, 45, who was born Benjamin Weiner. Several attempts to speak with Gold were unsuccessful.
Gold was planning to turn his space over to skateboard and street-wear brand Huf, where he worked as a designer at the beginning of his career. He opened the Valencia location in 2016, the same year he released his “heartfelt letter to San Francisco before the tech boom” on his store’s blog, where he bemoaned the changing retail and culture scene, specifically in the Mission District. Gold’s first store, opened in 2010, had been on 21st Street near Mission; he later moved to a location at 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero streets.
Gold moved to San Francisco in 1998 and worked as a graphic designer for clients including Mervyn’s and the Body Shop, according to a 2014 Chronicle profile. Around the same time, Gold designed his signature glider-plane image for a run of stickers that he tagged around San Francisco with the words “Stay Gold” underneath, which would become a motto for the brand.
After a stint as lead designer at Huf and several one-off products, he officially launched the Benny Gold label in late 2007. At one time, the brand was carried in 200 American retailers with several distributors serving stores in Asia, Europe and Australia. His products range from graphic T-shirts, bags, caps and skateboarding accessories to apparel such as jackets, pullovers, trousers and Japanese-made windbreakers. The brand is known for its “street-wear for grown-ups” aesthetic that combines skater-style with elements of classic American workwear, and collaborations with heritage brands like Pendleton. Gold’s fans could be devoted to the point of having his brand’s artwork tattooed on themselves.
“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,” Gold wrote in 2016. “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.”
Independent womenswear designer Dema Grim, who closed her Valencia Street store three years ago, says that the neighborhood’s changing population was part of why she chose to change her business model to private made-to-order sales.
“I had a generous landlord,” Grim says. “But my customers left. Many were priced out of the neighborhood, and that’s a common refrain.”
Grim also wondered if the popularity of stores specializing in more basic apparel, like Everlane and Reformation, was indicative of the future. “Those seem to be the places that are popular now.”
The Benny Gold store closed Jan. 31, following a Jan. 26 party that spilled onto the street.
Tony Bravo is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]
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