Notes from the Retail Revolution

Reporting from San Francisco-- Protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement seized a Bank of America branch in the city's financial district Wednesday, a demonstration that forced jittery customers and employees to flee and ended in nearly 100 arrests...

It took about 40 police officers in riot gear nearly four hours to clear the bank...

Demonstrators outside pinned a group of police officers attempting to enter the building and tried to grab their guns and batons…

They scrawled messages in chalk on the bank walls — "Greed!" and "Give Us Back What You stole!"... One man was seen urinating in a corner.

--L A Times


Poor sanitation and evidence of lice and fleas at the Occupy San Francisco encampment endanger the health of everyone in the overcrowded, makeshift tent city at Justin Herman Plaza, public health officials said Wednesday.


…Occupy SF protestors at Justin Herman Plaza and Market Street spent much of Thursday preparing for an inspection and bracing for a raid…the situation has deteriorated as the camp has grown…

…Barbara Garcia, director of the Department of Public Health, on Thursday formally declared the Justin Herman site a health nuisance...


Nuisance indeed.

Let's take a few moments to think about the other occupiers, who thus far haven't been covered in media reports: the hard working, licensed street artists who peacefully conduct business in Justin Herman Plaza, who show up each morning with their homemade wares hoping sales will be good, who love what they do and just want to keep on doing it. Each day that OSF remains in Justin Herman Plaza, these other occupiers--creative, law abiding entrepreneurs--feel the negative effects. "It's bad," one artisan told me. "I just want them to go away."

I second that emotion.

To cheer them on, as promised in my last post, here are a few of the street artists Don and I met a couple of weeks ago on our field trip. Despite their challenging protestor-neighbors, all were happy to chat and enthusiastic about their craft. If you're ever in San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza, please stop by and check out their products. Support the {truly peaceful} Made in the U.S.A. Retail Revolution:

Slightly Outrageous Artwork: Lynn Sunday

Must admit that prior to this Buy American project, I'd rush past the arts and crafts kiosks in Justin Herman Plaza on my way to the Ferry Building for lunch. Who had time for ceramic dog pins when fresh baked bread and a crab salad beckoned just a few yards away?

But now even ceramic dog pins take on special importance when they're actually handmade in this country. Artist Lynn Sunday has been making the truly adorable, brooch-sized pins here in the Bay Area for many years. Born in New York City, she earned a degree in fine art at Syracuse University in upstate NY before relocating to San Francisco, where she and her husband currently reside. On her website Lynn explains that she began as an abstract painter "with an unexpressed whimsical side, and a love for all animals." She's dog obsessed:

"I once followed a dog for an entire city block-unable to stop myself, because from the rear, he looked like my dog, Conan the Barbarian, and my husband pointed out that here we were in Europe following a dog's rear end! Then he suggested I make pins in the dog's image to help me through my vacations, and a new line of artwork began."

To create the lightweight doggie pins, Lynn expertly forms them from slabs of clay, fires them, hand-paints them with underglazes, and finally fires them again. The day I visited her ceramic "kennel" at Justin Herman Plaza, every breed imaginable sat and stayed (such well behaved pooches), awaiting good homes.

Lynn says her wearable dog art "makes most people smile." I'll tell you what makes me smile, Lynn: Knowing that your products--whether dog pins or frameable, fanciful dog art--are all made right here in the U.S.A. by a talented, dedicated artiste.


Eve-n-Artistry: Siska Wijata

"I used to work for Hallmark," soft-spoken San Francisco graphic designer Siska Wijata said, smiling. At Hallmark, Siska designed greeting cards for three years. Now she's her own boss. She enjoys having the freedom to create whatever she likes, whether it's custom handcrafted stationery, lace-and-ribbon hairclips for little girls, or custom wall art for children's bedrooms. If you can't make it to SF, Siska's products are also sold on


Pieter Muller Designs:

"As an avid active man I love to tele ski, bike, dance and breathe the fresh air of the great outdoors. In the beginning was motivated to sew by the need to repair my gear; packs, pants (ripped inseam), shirts (sleeves & elbows), etc…"

So begins Pieter Muller on his website. He's active, he likes to sew, he's passionate about the environment and about keeping jobs in this country. He began designing and sewing in 1985, and eventually developed a popular brand called PROLeisure (later called ULTRALeisure) "quality gear for the extreme [sports] community."

He also fashions women's skirts from "pre-loved" fabrics. And his hooded sweaters are amazing. They come in assorted gorgeous colors--I bought one in a denim-blue--and are made of a super cozy chenille-like fabric he calls "SweaterFleece." Pieter purchases his fleece fabric from Malden Mills in Massachusetts, "one of the few remaining mills in the U.S. I want dollars to stay within the community, not fund a non-sustainable loss of American jobs." Amen to that, Pieter.

Pieter divides his time between Seattle and San Francisco. He produces all his handmade clothing in his "Seattle sewing cabin," as he calls it, surrounded by natural beauty. "Working in nature works for me," he says. Click here to see Pieter and his many creations at his booth. Scroll down to see his little sewing cabin in the woods.

Curlew Artisan Candles: Cedar Ingber

Artist Cedar Ingber told me he began making candles when he found some tubs of discarded wax outside his apartment complex a few years ago. "I started messing around with it, making candles, and really enjoyed the process." It took many months of trial and error to master the fine art of candle-making.

Nowadays most candles are made in China, so I was thrilled to discover Cedar's products. His style is clean, contemporary. Big polka dots, wide stripes. Great colors: green, aqua, brown. Square tall pillars or short chunky ones. I bought his Votive Egg Carton Six Pack--six two-tone votives nestled in a recyclable egg carton--which I'll tuck away and give as a gift to some lucky friend at Easter.

On his website, Cedar says "I think we should all be trying to get more joy out of life. I gain a lot of satisfaction from channeling my creative energy into making functional and aesthetically pleasing objects."

This positive, can-do reasoning gives me an idea: perhaps the Justin Herman Plaza street artists should send Cedar over to OSF as a kind of goodwill ambassador. He could help them channel their heretofore misdirected creative energy. Since they like to spray paint walls and make signs so much, they may have promising futures in corporate advertising. They could make some big bucks. Oh, the irony.


I've saved my personal favorite handmade product for last. Unfortunately I don't have much in the way of contact information for its creator. His name is Gary. He makes generously-sized coffee mugs with pithy sayings on them. Cranks 'em out by the dozens using his kiln in the city. Here's the mug I simply had to have for obvious reasons:

I know. Isn't it perfect? I'm thinking of taking it all around town with me, including my local Starbucks, where the display shelves are crammed with holiday gift mugs--all Made in China. In a vivid example of identity confusion, right next to the cash register Starbuck's promotes its CREATE JOBS FOR USA campaign with wristbands ($5) and fliers (free) that celebrate local businesses as the heart of every community and plead: THIS COUNTRY NEEDS JOBS. Um, ok Starbucks. Much as we appreciate what you're doing here, why not go all the way? Make the giftware at your stores 100% Made in the U.S.A. Send a few corporate bigwigs over to Justin Herman Plaza to order truckloads of mugs from Gary. He'd need to hire a bunch of other San Francisco residents (how about a few OSF people?) to help him fill the record-breaking order. The circle of captialist life, cranking at full throttle.

Next up: Twenty minutes at an Occupy SF General Assembly. Yikes.