When I walk into 31Rax on a Tuesday evening, I am greeted by an unfamiliar face. "Saiii, stay here!" owner Stephanie Madrinan orders as she gives me a hug, scooping up the smallest dog I ever seen along the way. It's only my second time in the Mission district vintage store, but Stephanie asks me how I've been and what I've been up to.
Sai, who I later find out is her landlord's dog, isn't the only unfamiliar thing about the store. Stephanie's added two new displays of accessories in the month since I first stopped by, and the stock as far as I can tell is completely fresh. Clearly 31Rax has some fans.
I take a look around as Stephanie fills me in on what is new. I am drawn to a tangerine ombre tunic with intricate Indian beading that hangs on a rack along the wall. Behind it are several floor length dresses in bold colors and prints, a theme that translates to the styles of many of the other pieces in the store.
Color, pattern, and fabric are the main qualifications Stephanie looks for on her bi-monthly buying trips down in Los Angeles. As opposed to many other vintage store owners, size is not a factor. She'll buy something as long as it meets her criteria for quality and is of a unique style. "I'm not going to buy something just because I need more skirts or a certain size," she says, "I want the clothes to be a reflection of me." This strategy has served her well as she has never had a problem selling the wide range of sizes and styles she carries.
Stephanie's entry into the vintage world is just as unconventional as her buying methods -- it all started when she was Tahitian dancing. Needing to make some quick cash for a trip to Tahiti to perform, she started a project called "Steph's Closet." Using Facebook as her main advertising platform, she held a sale for all the thrifted and vintage clothes she had been collecting for years. When the sale was finished, she had made over three thousand dollars.
After her trip to Tahiti, Stephanie moved to Los Angeles to dance full time. There, she continued to use her eye for great vintage to style her dancer and musician friends for their auditions and performances. "I am always on the lookout for what's going to make people pop," she says of the side job she picked up, "so it made sense."
Eventually, she decided to head home to the Bay and began looking for spaces in Oakland and San Francisco for her first brick and mortar vintage store. She settled on her current location at the corner of Mission and 29th Street because she felt as though it was a "saturated market" for her clothes. Pinpointing her primary customers as local musicians, thrifters who have learned about her store online or on Yelp, her neighbors, and her own network of friends and family, she's right about the store's unbeatable location. Next door to a recording studio, musicians regularly wander in looking for clothes for photo shoots and upcoming shows.
As Stephanie is finishing up the story of how 31Rax came to be, Sai starts barking again. A middle-aged woman in a Cole Hardware t-shirt and full length gypsy skirt has just walked into the store. "Hi LaRose!" Steph jumps up and hugs her too. LaRose, I quickly discover, works at the hardware store across the street. She, like many of the other neighbors, often comes into the store to shop or even just to chat with Stephanie. Today she's looking for a denim jacket to paint on. Admiring the selection she tells me, "This really is the most outstanding second-hand store in the Mission."
LaRose is exactly the kind of customer that Stephanie wants to attract to her store. In addition to selling a wide variety of vintage clothing, the space also doubles as an art gallery and photo studio. Hung along the walls are photos shot by local artists and her friends. She brings in new art regularly, and all of it is for sale. In the back of the store, a photo backdrop is set up and used by her many photographer friends. "I wanted to have a place where people could create," she said, "as an artist, that's very important to me."
I think it's safe to say that along with dancer, store owner, stylist, artist, and friend, "creator," can also be added to the list of Stephanie's many titles.
For more information visit 31rax.com.