BOSF 2011: Gravel and Gold Sells Beautiful, Beguiling Bric-a-Brac

The 1970s Marin County vibe is strong in Gravel and Gold, which sells handmade and sustainably produced stuff on 21st Street near Valencia. Tributes to the handmade ethos of the counterculture are everywhere — thick pottery, ethnic-print fabrics, and special clogs abound. Look for geode earrings, excellent French pocketknives, and books about vegetarian communes.

It's a strong and specific aesthetic, and the range of wares is wide, but for the most part, it's a plain old shop. Still, people get confused. “There are so many people who come in and they're like, 'What is this place?'” says Cass McGettigan, one of the three owners. “And I'm like, 'It's a store!' There are things, there are price tags. … For some reason it reads as something else, and obviously, we've done a lot to invite that feeling.”

It's airy and somewhat sparse, and one of the front windows is occupied by an expansive upholstered window seat with pretty pillows and/or a dog. In addition, the merchandise is unified only by the owners' eclectic taste. So although there are dresses on racks, there's also a bookshelf, a basketful of fresh bread, and sturdy chairs.

Another element that invites the what-is-it feeling is the hands-on workshops and information-shares held around the store's enormous central table, often cleared off for the how-to sessions, says co-owner Lisa Foti-Straus.

“The best-attended workshop by far was Lloyd Kahn,” McGettigan says. “He was the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog back in the '70s; he came and gave a slideshow. … And it was packed in here! He lives in Bolinas, and I think he was so stoked to see how many young people are interested in his work and know his work.”

The women say they hope to focus on more of these info-sharing sessions in the future. But Foti-Straus mentions that she took an enamel-jewelry-making workshop recently and enjoyed it immensely.

“I feel like the workshops are also a very convenient way to explain value,” McGettigan says. “Because there are certain things in the store that are expensive. And rather than me saying, 'It took someone thirty years to learn how to do that, and eight days to construct that actual thing'” — here she has to laugh a little — “you can try to construct it yourself. For example, the enamel things that came out of the workshop were beautiful and individual, but they are of a different quality than the instructor's work, right? People these days are so out of touch with what goes in to making something … we're so accustomed to relatively high-quality things coming out of a machine.”

Perhaps the source of those new customers' initial confusion is the fact that this is a store that aspires to so much more than just being a store. Foti-Straus says, “The space for us is a space of learning from people who come in as well as trying to present things that we can share.”

“And,” adds McGettigan, “we're making this new clothing line! People come in and they say, 'So what do you guys make?' and we're like, 'The whole mamma-jamma shop!' But it really is a pleasure to be able to work on our own making process, besides space-making.” The plan is for hand-silkscreened fabric to be sewn, right in the shop — you can already hear a sewing machine chugging along behind a drapery in the back end — into clothes and purses and more. You could do it yourself instead of checking theirs out, of course. The owners of Gravel and Gold would be delighted if you did. They did it themselves, so they're aware of the value.

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