Construction workers at the site for a condominium complex developed by Grosvenor Americas Inc. at 288 Pacific Ave., in the Jackson Square area of San Francisco. It’s the first residential development in the neighborhood in a decade.

 

by J.K. Dineen – Photo: Nicole Boliaux

A new retail cluster has sprung up in the city’s oldest commercial district: Gold Rush-era Jackson Square, with its red brick buildings and skinny alleyways.

Over its 165-year history Jackson Square has housed warehouses, artists’ studios, interior design wholesalers, antique and rare map dealers, and dot-coms. Beneath its streets lie the hulls of junked ships, and the windows along the north side of Jackson Street are adorned with cast iron shutters to protect against the next big fire.

But during the past 18 months, the neighborhood has been discovered by a collection of stores looking not only for more affordable rents than can be found in Union Square or the trendy neighborhood retail districts around Chestnut, Fillmore and Hayes streets, but also for a community of like-minded shops with a chance to redefine a historic area.

There is the French designer Isabel Marant at 455 Jackson, Guideboat (marine-themed apparel) at 441 Jackson St., Aesop (skin care products) at 445 Jackson and A.P.C. (clothing) at 407 Jackson. The fashion brand Theory opened at 412 Jackson, and a new North Face store, aimed at the “city explorer,” recently arrived at 701 Sansome St.

Shinola, the high-end Detroit maker of everything from watches to notebooks and bicycles, has set up shop on Hotaling Place, where it shares a space with the Seattle outdoorwear company Filson. Next door is Allbirds, which makes shoes out of New Zealand merino wool.

The influx of businesses has injected new bustle into the quiet tree-lined enclave, a neighborhood of 82 parcels and eight blocks that sits north and east of the Financial District in an area bounded by Broadway, Columbus Avenue, Washington Street and Battery Street.

The new retail stores complement restaurants like Quince and Cotogna, which have joined older dining destinations like Bix and Kokkari, said William Stout, who owns William Stout Architectural books at 804 Montgomery St.

“There are more people on the street than there used to be, especially between 4 and 8, which is good for us,” said Stout.

Alan Mark, who owns an eponymous condo marketing and sales business at 724 Battery St., said new stores seem to materialize overnight.

“It’s filling in quietly, all these stores that are very design-driven,” he said. “You go away for a week, or pick a new block to walk down, and there is a new store. It’s a quiet renaissance that a lot of people don’t know about.”

Pamela Mendelsohn, a broker with Cushman & Wakefield, said retail tenants looking for a Jackson Square presence outnumber available spaces. Rents are between 20 and 40 percent less expensive than top retail streets like Fillmore, Chestnut and Hayes.

“These are unique merchants looking for a place in the city where they don’t feel like the offering is too commercial, who wanted something a little edgier,” she said. “Word is out.”

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer

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