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Wander On In

New boutique becomes "neighborhood jeweler" for city's hippest area.

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Love & Luxe; San Francisco, CA

URL: loveandluxesf.com; OWNER: Elizabeth “Betsy” Barron; FOUNDED: 2011; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2011; COST OF BUILDOUT: $22,000; AREA: 1,000 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 5 part-time; TOP BRAINDS: Polly Wales, Johnny Ninos, Betsy Barron; YELP RATING: 4.5 stars; FACEBOOK: 1,062 likes; INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS: 1,416


EVEN BEFORE A SHOPPER enters San Francisco boutique Love & Luxe, its front door sets the tone. Specifically, the fact that it’s usually flung wide open to welcome anyone who passes by is important to owner Betsy Barron. “We didn’t want a snooty store or a door buzzer. We’re in a residential neighborhood and anyone should feel like it’s OK to wander in,” she explains.

Part of her comfort with the surroundings on Valencia Street, a rapidly gentrifying artery in the once gritty Mission District, stems from having lived in the neighborhood for 23 years. The strip of quirky businesses and restaurants dishing out a global hodgepodge of cuisines serves longtime working-class residents and a flood of recent (and highly paid) arrivals who work at the suburban tech campuses of Twitter, Amazon and GoPro, among others.

Barron’s early arrival to the area was her ticket to finding Love & Luxe’s current location. A jewelry designer herself, Barron had searched over 15 years for a retail space to house her studio and serve as a gallery for “high quality jewelry in a variety of materials from rarely seen artists.” She unexpectedly discovered the vacant Victorian storefront on a walk in her neighborhood in early 2011. Her intuition told her she had found exactly what she’d been waiting for. “It was like a Cinderella story,” she admits.

The 1,000-square-foot space is divided into three parts: the Love & Luxe sales floor, Barron’s jewelry studio and, at the rear, an office for her husband’s company, a boutique advertising agency. Combining two family businesses in one space made the self-financed project possible.

By the time construction was complete, all the inventory had arrived, too. Barron began with a roster of 12 designers. Not every step along the way was flawless. “We used to hand-write all our tickets, which was cute, until we had a few returns, and we had no idea how to find anything!”

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A combination of word of mouth and serendipity has been Barron’s path to adding to the ranks of Love & Luxe’s designers, which now number 35. One afternoon a designer wandered into the store unexpectedly. After falling into conversation with him and seeing some of his designs, Barron immediately wanted to feature his work but bemoaned the fact that she didn’t have any more display space. “He said, ‘I’m going to make you a case, and if you like it, you can keep it.’ And that’s how we became Johnny Ninos’ first store,” Barron exclaims.

The case Ninos created, a wall-mounted wooden box with a glass door connected to a dangling counterweight, still resides at Love & Luxe. It’s part of an assortment that combines salvaged industrial finds — like steel shelving stacked with books about the history of jewelry design — with antique pieces that have prior retail experience. The single largest display in the store bisects the room and dates to 1890, when it stored men’s shirts in a London boutique. And a mirror found through Craigslist came from a store to which she had sold her own jewelry collection 20 years earlier. Overhead, a track lighting system placed in a rectangular formation illuminates the room, along with usually reliable California sunshine. Barron describes the environment as “minimalist, but warm. We like to keep it breezy”

In just under four years Love & Luxe has become the Mission’s “neighborhood jeweler,” Barron says. “We’ve already seen customers for their wedding jewelry, then for the first anniversary and push present. That’s exciting. That was our goal.”

To bring clients through the door even when they’re not celebrating life’s landmarks, the Love & Luxe team hosts events — from trunk shows to jewelry-making workshops — on a monthly basis, and publicizes them by personally calling customers and through social media, especially Instagram.

Based on its breakout success, more news will be coming from Love & Luxe soon. With the original location at capacity, Barron is considering the possibility of creating additional concept stores and is cautiously eyeing e-commerce, though “it takes time because it’s like opening an entirely new location, with new staff.” The way she sees it, being bombarded with “constant solicitations” from designers who want her to sell their jewelry is “a wonderful problem. And if your attitude is positive, it all works.”

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Love & Luxe

1. ANNIVERSARY EVENTS: To celebrate each of its anniversaries, Love & Luxe hosts a party that’s part trunk show. The festivities include a gift bag with goodies, including a limited-edition pendant for shoppers who spend more than $100.

2. ART INSTALLATIONS: The art decorating the boutique, an always-evolving assortment in media from watercolor to sculpture, is for sale. Most of the artists, like regular exhibitor Silvia Polotto, also show their work in respected museums and arts institutions.

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3. IT’S ALL IN THE HANDS: Elements throughout the store have an artisanal touch. Copper nameplates that have been embossed by hand appear alongside the work of each designer, wrapping paper and business cards have been individually stamped and purchases are boxed in reusable metal containers. “It helps remind customers that hands made everything in this store,” says Barron.

4. FLEXIBLE AND FAST: When her clients want to commission engagement and wedding rings, Barron regularly connects them with the designers she sells, and as a bench jeweler she makes and modifies bespoke pieces herself. One client asked her to create a custom engagement ring that combined two of his grandmothers’ rings…in only a week’s time. “Sometimes clients plan elaborate proposals and don’t think of the ring until the last minute,” says Barron.

5. THERE’S A PLACE TO PUT WISHES: Prominently displayed on a countertop is a wooden box with a note instructing passersby to “Create Your Own Love & Luxe Wish List.” Anyone can record their favorite items and ring size on an index card and file it for future reference. Each client’s list — stashed in alphabetical order — is a helpful reminder for self-purchasers and gift-givers.

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Love & Luxe sends last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers home with more than just jewelry. Each year it hosts an evening with guest vendors of romantic wares, like flowers, chocolates and original love poems, becoming a one-stop shop for the sweethearts’ holiday.

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