Living for the Experience
From indoor skydiving to movie theaters, retailers are proving consumers desire what experiential concepts have to offer
Carly Hagedon | VMSD
OPENING THE DOOR
When a liquor store with a seedy reputation ended its lease on a prominent corner of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, 826 Valencia (San Francisco) took over the spot, much to the neighborhood’s delight.
According to Jonas Kellner, a San Francisco-based architect, the brand had identified the neighborhood as being among the most financially neglected in the city, and also one with “the greatest number of children, per capita, of any community in the city,” he says. “There was a great alignment of need, from both the students and the opportunity for this area.”
Gensler’s San Francisco office, along with several other design firms, worked cooperatively on the concept.
Catering mostly to youngsters and curious passersby, the space functions as both a retail store and a tutoring/writing lab for underprivileged students. Unusual graphics on the façade draw people in, where they’re met with a series of visual moments: a trap door that releases a spray of bubbles, for example, and a light fixture that appears to have been dredged out of the sea, says Janice Cavaliere, design director, Gensler.
826 Valencia’s founders also have an original pirate-themed location, while this locale focuses on the narrative of a globetrotting pufferfish named “King Carl.”
Offering everything from books to quirky toys like “ogre dental floss,” the store is the gateway to the writing lab, which is accessible through a wall of doors. The wall is made up of about 70 unusually shaped doors, 40 of which are functional. “We took clients there recently, and adults were crawling through the bunny-shaped door and loving every minute of it,” says Cavaliere.
The writing lab is a calming, nature-inspired space, with a tree house and cozy nooks and crannies for reading and writing. Beyond the obvious structural challenges in creating a wall of doors, the safety of the tree house was also a concern, and a playground consultant was called in to assess its construction, according to Kellner.
While the retail component of 826 Valencia may be small compared to its main offerings, the experiences work in tandem to help recruit additional volunteers and solicit donations, as well as provide a safe, exciting place for children to learn.
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