Hyperlocal Tenderloin Shop Fleet Wood Respects the Hustle

From its ‘100 Under 100' group art show and beyond, Nico Schwieterman's boutique and screenprinting business keep it real.

Shirts with “Respect the Hustle” on the back are Fleet Wood’s best-seller, in fact. Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

Everyone should have a friend who unloads a “Top 100 Songs of the Year”-type playlist at the end of December without fail. But for Nico Schwieterman of Tenderloin boutique Fleet Wood, it gets a little more involved that simply compiling good songs as they come up. This Thursday, Dec. 6, from 4-10 p.m., the Larkin Street shop hosts its fourth annual 100 Under 100 Group Art Show, which somehow manages to fit a ton of artwork among all the “Still Searching for the American Dream” T-shirts, the geometric sculptures of bismuth crystals grafted onto charred driftwood, and zines like Fear of a Female Planet.

As it happens, every artist included is under the age of 100, but it’s more about the price. While no boutique, however hip or smartly curated, can break America’s addiction to clicking through Amazon, it’s San Francisco’s best chance to find an awesome gift for $25 that wasn’t suggested to you by an algorithm — and every artist in the show has but one piece. But how can you possibly cram so much stuff into such a little space and keep it all organized?

“You know what? Spreadsheets!” Schwieterman tells SF Weekly. “It’s amazing. Most people have their shit together, which is great. We’ll hang everything on Wednesday so people can preview earlier on Thursday.”

For a long time, Fleet Wood’s best-selling item was a line of T-shirts and bags that read “Good Grammar Is Sexy.” (It’s been a staple at music festivals like Treasure Island for years.) But now, it’s a long-sleeve shirt that says “Respect the Hustle” on the back.

“The whole line is inspired by fine art and what it takes to be an artist or run a shop and do creative art,” Schwieterman says. “Even if you’re a web designer and you freelance from home, it’s still about respecting the hustle. Just show up for shit.”

The 100 Under 100 party is going to be a packed house, with DJs Martha Queen and Winston O’Boogie at the decks for two-hour shifts — vinyl-only, Schwieterman emphasizes. It’s not the only event on the calendar, either. Only two weeks later, the almost-four-year-old shop and its accompanying screenprinting business, Studio Nico, will throw their annual holiday party for vendors and assorted hyperlocal makers, and next February, the anniversary celebration promises to be a time. But it’s First Thursdays and the monthly Lower Polk/Tenderloin Art Walk that remain the saving grace of Fleet Wood and the surrounding neighborhood.

“We can kind of send people around to each other’s stores, which has totally been the lifeline of small businesses in this neighborhood,” Schwieterman says. “We’re all buddies. We’ve all gotten to know each other. We’re sending people around: ‘Oh, you haven’t been to Everyday [Skate Shop]? You should check out [clothing shop] The Loin! It’s been around forever.”

Since a coalition of likeminded people got involved with the Lower Polk Community Business District two years ago, the Art Walk has grown exponentially.

“More people are realizing, finally, that the Tenderloin is awesome and there’s places to eat: Vietnamese, Thai, whatever you can get your hands on,” she says. I don’t know what it is, but the Art Walk numbers from each place have been going up.”

The city has helped, too. A grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development has afforded the CBD a social-media intern. But mostly it’s the realization among interested parties that working together is mutually beneficial.

By virtue of where her business is, and the moxie it takes to keep it going, Schwieterman has become something of a community advocate. (Full disclosure: We have several mutual friends, and once attended a destination wedding that was almost destroyed by a hurricane.) She’s on good terms with many of the people in the neighborhood, of whatever background or economic class, because everybody looks out for everybody. After meeting over lunch at the taqueria inside Mid City Market on Geary Street, she and I encounter a friendly and visibly unhoused guy whom she greets by name, using her phone to determine if the silver dollar he just got has any monetary value. (Maybe: A similar-looking one in used condition appears to have sold for $2,300.)

Whereas many merchants in her position might regard San Francisco’s homeless situation as a threat to their livelihoods, Schwieterman is different. She’s distressed by the occasional encampment sweeps on nearby Myrtle Alley, both because of their punitive nature and because it appears that SFPD and the Department of Public Works spend money simply to move people around. She’s glad that the neighborhood has been able to procure two additional beat cops — not because she wants to see people arrested, but because their mere presence can act as a deterrent. A representative for the city has been conducting neighborhood meetings and asking people what they might need.

“Everyone gets to voice their opinions, and people are starting to listen,” she says. “There’s a lot of awesome shit in the Tenderloin. It’s always been that way. I used to live at Polk and Eddy 13 years ago, when it was actually scary to walk around. Now, it’s just unpredictable.”

In the end, all that engagement has been good for business. Doing it alone is hard, and even Instagram charges you to get your stuff out there.

“We’re getting a lot of neighborhood businesses who are like, ‘Hey, you do shirts and you’re in this neighborhood also.’ It’s very tightly knit here. And it’s hard to survive on your own.”

However tightly knit, that’s still a lot of people to pack into a tiny storefront on Dec. 6. But Schiweterman is unfazed.

“We just tell everyone to prepare for the most amazing shitshow they’ve ever seen,” she says.

Fleetwood, 839 Larkin St., 415-439-9293 or fleetwoodsf.com

 

This profile of Fleetwood is part of our Dec. 6, 2018 small business issue. Check out our other pieces:

Fiat Lux Seeks to Outlast the Hills: What started as a tiny, 199-square-foot jewelry shop has evolved into a gathering place for makers, with a world-class selection and a cult-like following.

Comix Experience Fosters the Next Generation of Fans: Comic books have re-entered pop culture, and the 29-year-old Divisadero Street store is there to guide new and established fans to the best of it.

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