The opening of HUF’s new retail location at 968 Valencia Street isn’t just an opportunity to hawk streetwear. It’s a homecoming.
“This is a huge, monumental thing, because this is our roots, and this is where the brand was conceived,” says Keith Murray, VP of global wholesale and retail for HUF. “The branding, the designs, the name — it all started here in San Francisco”
Despite the popularity of their pot leaf-printed socks, the skate apparel brand isn’t named for cannabis. Rather, the “HUF” moniker comes from Keith Hufnagel, the pro skater-turned-entrepreneur who made a name for himself skating the streets of San Francisco at the turn of the century. Best known for his “pop,” or ability to effortlessly seize airtime, Hufnagel was sponsored by major brands of the era, including Spitfire, Real Skateboards, and Thundertrucks. In the time between founding the company in 2002 and passing away from brain cancer in September of last year, he grew the HUF brand from a collection of limited apparel boutiques in the city to a worldwide phenomenon that became particularly popular in Japan.
In honor of their local roots, the San Francisco location will be HUF’s new flagship store. The storefront was originally occupied by Benny Gold, who closed in January of 2019 after 15 years. Gold had gotten his start in streetwear working for HUF, and said he was proud to hand over the location in a statement issued at the time. The shop is on the first floor of a beautiful green-and-gold Victorian between Dog Eared books and the entertainment venue Amado’s.
To celebrate their soft opening on Friday, August 6, HUF scheduled a series of events all a quick skate from the store. First, a high ollie contest will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the SOMA skatepark, which is open to the public and includes a $500 cash prize for the winner. Then, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., people are invited for an exclusive tour of the store, an opportunity to buy limited merch while DJ Shortkut spins. City Station, an outdoor food truck park and events space in the Mission, will offer food and drinks from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Then there will be an after party at the Chapel, featuring DJ King Most, running from 10 p.m. until “late.” Masks are required, and interested guests are encouraged to RSVP online.
“On Valencia Street on the weekends they close the street down, so we think it’s going to be really good energy, a lot of people, with everything very close to the store,” says Murray.
The process of securing permits for the Mission district location was fraught with bureaucratic hurdles and a long battle with the city Planning Commission. Despite having only one other store in the United States (before the pandemic, two — their NYC location closed under economic pressure), HUF’s dozens of Japan-based locations triggered the city’s “formula retail” restrictions. The rules, meant to give a boost to non-chain retailers, prohibit companies with more than eleven international locations with standardized branding from opening a location in most of San Francisco’s commercial corridors. HUF was eventually cleared as an exception to the rule in February of last year, mostly due to their historic importance as a symbol of local skate culture and their low number of American stores. Then, opening was delayed another 18 months because of pandemic-generated economic and staff safety concerns.
Until his death, Hufnagel was hands-on with the process of opening the Valencia store, going door-to-door in the Mission District to gain support and properly integrate himself with the local economy. Murray describes flying up from L.A. with Murray, collecting petition signatures to sway city planning, and hosting community forums, in the last two years of Hufnagel’s life. Hufnagel gave Murray the nickname “Sweets” in 2005 so the two Keiths could differentiate themselves, and, as a marker of how the company has retained it’s small business feel, Murray still goes by “Sweets” on the job. “Most of the industry actually knows me by that nickname,” Murray says.
Next year the brand will be 20 years old, and, looking back, Murray says there’s no better place to set up shop than in the city where the brand was born. Hufnagel came to San Francisco at the age of 18 because of a unique, forward-thinking culture — a culture that Murray says is still alive today.
“There’s still that history here, and there’s many skateboarders, men and women, that choose to move here from around the world because of skateboarding,” says Murray. “It will always be the Mecca.”