The Tiny Shops of The Tendernob

This is an update to a post from last year

We live on the backside Nob Hill. When you stand up at the top , near Grace Cathedral, and look south, your eye follows the canyon of the street down towards Market and the Tenderloin. Between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill, is the Tendernob. The Tendernob is one of the densest neighborhoods in the country outside of Manhattan. In fact, it feels to me like a slice of Manhattan right here, lined with 6-story apartment buildings end to end.

Its a neighborhood populated with a mish mash of working professionals, art students, seniors, and, as always, assorted characters. There is an eclectic mix of buildings in the neighborhood. More interesting perhaps,  a fascinating collection of   tiny mom and pop shops . Many of the apartment buildings have tiny spaces, sometimes almost closets really, on the ground floor available for lease. In the parlance of the industry, these shops are known as micro-retail, tiny business incubators. The shops reflect the neighborhood; hair salons, tiny clothing stores, and assorted tchotchke emporiums, selling everything from paperclips to paper dragons.  What’s been interesting over the past couple of years is to watch them . Some are stable and thriving, other spaces have hosted new tenants every 6 months. And in one sad case, a fire has brought the demise of another, in that case, the very spot where I get my haircut. Here’s a look around:

Leftover Spaces

As mentioned above, many of these spaces are at the base of apartment buildings. Often , a result of the sharply sloping streets, small leftover spaces are created, and  turned into leasable space. Here are a few just down the street. 

Each of these spaces is no more than 10 feet wide, and maybe 25 feet deep. This particular group includes a small graphic designer and a accupunturist. Here’s a close-up of the accupuncturist, this space can’t be more than 8 feet wide, the waiting room a single chair:

Designers seem particularly drawn to these spaces, and there are a number in this increasingly creative nexus. Here are several of the largest “tiny shops” , each with a full display window impeccably designed:

In many cases however, the establishment is little more than a door, rather mysterious and open at odd hours:

“Ransack”- couldn’t have been 100sf- now closed.

While these small spaces seem best for small design and tchotske shops, they do occasionally host cafes, and in one case, a small restaurant. “Farm Table” has become a well known breakfast and lunch spot in the neighborhood, and is aptly named- it has one single farm table, that’s it, which you can see in the photo:


In addition too these leftover spaces in larger buildings, there is a second type in the neighborhood, the “in-between” building, a one-story shed stuffed between two larger buildings. Here’s a few examples:

A slightly larger , but exquisite example on Bush Street

Finally , my favorite, “Hair On Hyde”, where I get my haircut. As of today, it is closed, perhaps indefinitely. That building to the left burned in an inferno two weeks ago, and is coming down. And then yesterday, the sidewalk collapsed in front of her building- I was one of the last to get a haircut there. Bonnie is great, and she is now looking for a chair in one of the other tiny salons in the neighborhood. Here is a photo from sunnier times.:

Ask For Bonnie!


In essence, many of these tiny spaces serve as incubators, small enough to allow an entrepreneur a chance to grow, and sometimes just large enough to allow them to flourish. So, with that, of course, there is turnover. I’d like to think that when one entity disappears, it is because it has become wildly successful, but my guess is might be more a case of them not making it. Here are several nearby shops at one location, changing their identities over the course of the last few months.:

644(center) and 646(right) Leavenworth- in flux


644- was the World’s smaller publisher
Now- not sure what.
646- A clothing designer
646- clothes begat green cleaning products

This neighborhood is more than tiny shops, why, there are less tiny shops, often more established entities. But they too most often embody the creative, the artistic, the literary, or all three. And of course, this neighborhood is but one example of many (thinking Mission), that embrace the small entrepeneur. But I am most fond of these blocks near home, with its Manhattan density, its mixed bag of residents , and its small, homegrown retail.

Minimalist candy shop
Pulp Fiction
Antiquarian books
Who’s Next?





One thought on “The Tiny Shops of The Tendernob

  1. See my response on Facebook — this is my old ‘hood! I can identify the bar, the apartment entrances, and the mom & pop mart — I bought a lot of cheap wine there! I am delighted to see the newer micro-businesses in those teensy spaces. I walked past many of them when they were shuttered and dusty and hoped they would bloom.

Comments are closed.