Berkeley hotels

Mr. Fillmore moves on | The new Fillmore


Photograph of Vas Kiniris by Chloe Jackman

By CHRIS BARNETT

After nearly three decades of involvement with the Fillmore Merchants Association – as a board member, vice president, president and the past five years as executive director – Vasilios Kiniris, the man in perpetual motion known by some as Mr. Fillmore and just like Vas, comes out on the left of the stage.

For most of that time, he has worked – sometimes visibly, sometimes behind the scenes – to bring together the various neighborhood coalitions into a cohesive and positive force. A longtime merchant himself, aside from a brief detour through architecture, Kiniris, 55, doesn’t give up on small businesses. He’s just crossed the street, so to speak, to a new entrepreneurial venture he calls NextSF, an agency that will offer his marketing knowledge to other merchant associations and individual businesses and organizations looking to grow their brands and businesses. .

Timothy Omi of Liberty Cannabis is the new president of the Fillmore Merchants Association. Patti Mangan is the new Executive Director. The permanent members of the board are Beverly Weinkauf of Always, Victorian Dunham of HiHo Silver and Chandler Tang of Post.Script.

A sincere long-haul who believes in relationships, the Greek Kiniris sees life as a series of “half-empty opportunities”, but he is no Pollyanna. He does not shy away from the facts that afflict San Francisco and the Fillmore in particular.

“Crimes do happen, there is no doubt about it,” he said in an exit interview this week. “Fillmore needs to be a safe place for its traders, their employees and their customers. The street, battered by the pandemic, has an unprecedented number of empty windows. But Kiniris remains optimistic. “Many are currently under contract with new leases,” he says. “They’re filling up again.”

Kiniris has swam upstream all his life, and not without failures. “I did my part,” he admits. One of his most visible unfortunate undertakings was to move his Zinc Details home design store south to a huge vacant space on Fillmore near the Geary Bridge, where a former dollar store once stood. It did not work. Zinc Details had been on Fillmore for 27 years when it closed in 2018.

•

Kiniris was 7 years old when he and his family arrived in San Francisco from Macedonia in northern Greece. At the beginning, they lived in HLM at the Mission “to find their way around”. His father Nick was a dishwasher at Nob Hill hotels, including the Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins. “My mother was a garment worker,” he says. “Dad quickly realized he had to go into business for himself.

The family opened a small local grocery store, then another. Young Vas went to work there as a child and grew up stocking shelves and checking customers while his father made sandwiches. “We’ve worked every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years for 15 years,” he says. “For me, it was my baptism in retail. Some people call it a sacrifice, but I don’t. The stores, the business, the customers were my social glue, my family. I didn’t have the chance to party much and can’t say it was a pleasant experience. But it was a learning experience.

The same was true for four years at UC Berkeley, where he obtained a degree in architecture. “But the practice was not to my taste,” he admits. “And frankly, my mechanical skills weren’t that good.”

He had a odd job as a waiter in the 1980s at Stars, the once sparkling restaurant of celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower, near City Hall. Recalls Kiniris: “I waited for people like Walter Cronkite and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and all the socialites, the movers and the shakers. “

He says he was first exposed to the finer things in life as an exchange student living with a thriving German family. “I was there, a blue collar immigrant surviving on a daily basis through extreme frugality and I was presented with the extras, the intangibles of life, this joy of living. Even now, I still consider them my second family, ”he says. “We all have a lot of parents in our life. “

•

In 1990, used to living without a safety net, Kiniris and his wife, Wendy Nishimura Kiniris, went retail on their own with a small store in Post and Hyde in the Tenderloin, with drug dealers and prostitutes right outside their doorstep. Rent: $ 500 per month. Their products: contemporary furniture. The Name: Zinc Details.

“We are credited with bringing modernism to San Francisco,” he says. “At that time, you were either old money or you had no money. We appealed to both. Our look was so fresh in the market, which had been dominated by Macy’s.

From there, they were thrown into the public arena. “We were both highly edited designers and curators,” he says. The couple were asked to set up a ‘store within a store’ at Macy’s, created products for Gap, and started a wholesale and private label business with top retailers in Paris, London and Tokyo.

A recession brought them back to earth, which Kiniris now calls “a great opportunity, if you take advantage of it.” They went upmarket, from Tenderloin to Fillmore Street. “We looked at Union and Fillmore,” he says, “and Fillmore was coming up at the time. “

Over the years, the Kiniris at one point had three Zinc Details stores in the neighborhood, with 20 employees, and he established himself as a passionate and committed merchant. So when longtime Fillmore Merchants Association president Thomas Reynolds resigned in 2015, Kiniris stepped in. “Thomas left us with a very good association of traders and his shoes were very heavy to fill,” he says.

•

Kiniris has taken great strides in different directions. Using his social media skills, he expanded the association’s communications and membership. Pedaling his electric bike, he integrated small business owners in the streets with representatives of corporate and international brands that had settled in the neighborhood. He contacted the merchants in Lower Fillmore and Japantown.

“My goal was to create dialogue and potential collaboration between all groups,” he says, “and to help large chain stores demonstrate good corporate behavior by engaging with the community. in a significative way. “

Kiniris says he is proud that the FMA has established relationships with many sectors of the community. “We have a strong relationship with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston,” he says. Indeed, the supes gave him a certificate of honor when he announced that he was retiring from the FMA.

He worked closely with the SF Police Department and the best cops in town. Kiniris is a graduate of the SFPD Community Policing Academy, helped secure a two-officer foot patrol on Fillmore, and is co-chair of Police Chief Bill Scott’s Small Business Advisory Forum. Recently, he helped organize a small business summit with the 10 city police district captains. “We had small group sessions where each captain met the traders in their neighborhood. ” he says. “I realized that traders don’t know what the police are doing, and vice versa.

Partnerships between merchants and mega-businesses like Google, Facebook, Uber and Spin, the city’s micro-scooter rental company, are more ambitious and still ongoing. “We have to demonstrate how they can be true community partners,” says Kiniris. “They cannot sit in their ivory towers.” While many streets in San Francisco remain dirty and littered with trash, Kiniris has worked with cleanup groups like the city’s Department of Public Works, Together SF, and Refuse Refuse.

During his years as Mr. Fillmore, Kiniris says he has sought to “reach multiple aisles” to bring together people who can help Fillmore Street and other trading lanes.

“The role of the traders association is to provide three things to its members and the community: security, maintenance and marketing,” he says, repeating his frequent mantra.

•

Despite San Francisco’s well-publicized woesKiniris is convinced that the city – and in particular the Fillmore – is about to be reborn, or “a regeneration,” as he calls it.

And not for the first time.

“It’s part of our history,” says Kiniris. “The Fillmore Merchants Association is the oldest in the city, formed 115 years ago after the 1906 earthquake. love. It was a hotbed of business opportunities with its large Jewish, Japanese and African-American communities over the decades, ”he says.

“It was diverse, an ethnic collaboration, and it’s time to work with many partners again,” he says. “It’s the Phoenix rising.”

Filed Under: Locals, Neighborhood History, Retail Report