Gump’s is coming back to San Francisco as a holiday pop-up – San Francisco Chronicle


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Gump’s is coming home, but it may not stay long.

On Monday its new owners, the Chachas family of New York, will open a pop-up Gump’s store at 250 Post St. in Union Square, a block away from where the more than 150-year-old retailer closed last year.

For years, legions of San Franciscans shopped at Gump’s for unique and beautiful gifts. When Gump’s filed for bankruptcy protection last year, ultimately closing in December, many shoppers grieved for a San Francisco tradition that was no more.

The Chachas plan to keep the store open for about four months. But it could be there longer — or not — depending on the family’s assessment of holiday sales and how the store copes with a changing San Francisco marked by steep rents, a retail labor shortage, and concerns about homelessness and crime.

“Gump’s is such a whimsical, elegant, old-school store with a rich San Francisco history, and we’re ecstatic to bring it back,” said Annie Chachas, Gump’s executive vice president and daughter of John Chachas, the chief executive. “We promise the same service and sophistication that Gump’s was known for.”

The new Gump’s measures 2,000 square feet, much smaller than its former three-level space. But in a twist, the store is in a former longtime home at 250 Post St., which Gumps occupied from 1909 to 1994.

“The exciting thing is to have it back in our building,” said Antoinette Gump, a descendant of the company’s founder and whose family owns a majority stake in the property where the temporary store is located. “Too bad it’s pop-up, but at least it’s something. I know so many people who can’t wait for it to open.”

The Chachas plan to sell what Gump’s was known for — jewelry and jades, finely crafted ornaments, tableware, linens, apparel and furniture. The Buddha statue that watched over shoppers for decades will not be there; John Chachas, founder and managing principal of Methuselah Advisors, was awarded it in a previous purchase of Gump’s from Hanover Direct, and he sold it at auction in May.

Chachas commissioned a replica, but there won’t be room in the smaller space. Instead, shoppers will find another Gump’s holiday feature — an elaborately decorated store replete with trees and elaborately adorned windows.

Whether those lure in new customers will be a key part of the Chachas’ test. Part of the reason Gump’s ultimately closed was an inability to appeal to younger customers, according to Helen Bulwik, a retail consultant in Oakland.

“There will always be a customer for Gump’s provided Gump’s begins to realize who that customer actually is,” she said. According to Bulwik, Gump’s customer base is in San Francisco, an affluent city, and “they’re in their 30s and 40s with expendable income.”

John Chachas was on the board of the former Gump’s. His family became the sole owners after bankruptcy last year, buying the brand name and trademarks for $650,000.

Chachas, while excited about the temporary store, expressed concerns about the state of retail in San Francisco, citing uncleanliness, homelessness and crime as reasons for his hesitation in signing a longer term lease. Union Square’s appeal isn’t what it used to be.

“I’m happy we’re coming back to San Francisco but we’ll decide where to go for a permanent home after the holiday season,” he said.

For loyal shoppers, the news of the store reopening, however fleeting, is reason to celebrate.

“I’ll be the first one in line,” said Susan Stauter, a San Francisco resident and retired artistic director at San Francisco Unified School District.

“I spent a lot of time at the store because it was such a wonderful place to be. For me it was an alternative universe, the Buddha, the ambiance, the people and the environment — all of it was charming,” she said.

Gump’s was among the Union Square stores that traditionally decorated their windows for the holiday season. The Gump’s windows drew some of the largest crowds, and often included kittens put up for adoption by the SPCA, delighting passersby. Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote in a Nov. 25, 1966, column: “The city waits for Gump’s Christmas windows each season the way it waits for S.F. Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker.’”

Gump’s was founded in 1861 as a frame and mirror shop, specializing in gilding picture frames in gold. The store grew its selection later by stocking luxury goods from Asia.

For Christine Suppes from Palo Alto, an author and fashionista, the news of Gump’s return is reason enough to make a trip into the city.

“I hope to see a little bit of the old Gump’s in the new Gump’s,” she said. “That’s why we shopped there, it evoked a beautiful feeling every single time.”

A celebration for the store opening is scheduled for October 16, the same day its website will reopen for business, offering a wider selection of products than what’s in the temporary store.

And if Union Square doesn’t work out? There might be other options in the region, with less tradition, perhaps, but fewer challenges.

“The good news is Palo Alto and Menlo Park are really quite clean and well maintained, so there are some lovely spots in the greater Bay Area that could still work for us,” John Chachas said.

Shwanika Narayan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @shwanika

More Information

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date for Gump’s opening. It is Monday.

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