“To this day, Lower Haight is still left off the tourist maps of the city,” says Corey Mathhues, one of four business partners who on Sept. 16 opened the doors to Lower Hater at the corner of Haight and Steiner streets. Indeed, a quick trip to the S.F. Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site reveals a long, unnamed corridor between Haight Ashbury, the Castro, and Hayes Valley. But Mathhues — along with Nicole Strand, Janice Myint, and Jordan Viray — believe that this less famous stretch of Haight is at the center of the city's cultural identity. Lower Hater, a gallery, store, and sort of skate-chic clubhouse, is their proof.
“You look at Upper Haight, Hayes Valley, the Marina — it's all getting gentrified,” Myint says. “We think this is one of the last neighborhoods that's stayed intact, and we want to keep that.”
Lower Hater occupies the former space of Future Primitive Sound, one of the San Francisco collectives that, like Upper Playground a few blocks away and True in the Upper Haight, helped establish the city's legacy as a hotbed of innovative urban art.
“We're somewhat following in that tradition, but doing things differently at the same time,” says Myint. “Future Primitive focused on turntablist culture. True focuses on hip hop, and Upper Playground, too. We're focusing more on the artistic community, especially in the Lower Haight.”
“We're pretty eclectic with the theme and the sound,” Strand adds. “We get funky in any direction.”
The Lower Haters also throw concerts and parties. They've hosted hip-hop shows at Mighty and are looking at early November for their grand opening (the Lower Haight block party on Oct. 15 should be a good dress rehearsal).
Inside the store, honey-colored walls pop with local artwork — burnt-etched wooden skateboard decks, graffiti-inspired paintings, a head-high installation by DJ Romanowski. In back, shelves of clothes sport S.F.-themed designs; the front of the room is taken over by a massive leather couch and picture windows looking out at Haight Street.
“There's a tradition of everyone in the Lower Haight sitting on their front steps and hanging out,” Mathhues says. “That's why we have the seating area here — so people can just come in and see what's up. It's good to bring the community back into what's going on.”