A sad clown. A surrealist gunfighter. A saxophone-playing frog. Queens, Kings, Knights, and Horsemen. Flying Angels. Leaping dolphins. 2 majestic eagles pitched in an epic struggle. A smiling shoeshine boy. Galloping horses. A gilded piano that would make Liberace proud. Gigantic, put-the-kid-on-top sized metal turtles. Gobs of brightly colored Miro-inspired glasswork.
Where can you go to find all this stuff in one place? At Michael, which along with its cousin Farinelli down the street, are 2 of the most bizarre and perplexing stores you’ll find anywhere. Each the kind of place that would make the perfect personal hell for someone, the staff at Dwell, perhaps.
I was determined to capture the insanity of these places in photos, but was challenged by finding decent sightlines amongst the chaos. Also, the guys working there always get uptight after 10 or 15 minutes. “No pictures, no pictures,” one of them says as I try to single out a Raggedy Ann & Andy on a tiny swingset from among the seahorses, fairies, and Egyptian dancers surrounding them on a marble tabletop. I tell one of the guys I’m a prop scout for an advertising photographer, and this seems to hold them off. Using a small camera helps too.
My aim is to keep the focus on the interiors experience here while still describing some of the details, which are so cliche, so saccharine, that they’re a little sickening to dwell on too much.
I did find myself dwelling on the questions “Who’s buying this stuff?” and “Is this place for real?” That is, how can they be paying their rent by selling this stuff? Are there that many tourists willing to pick up a massive ornamental stone lion or Dale Chiluly knockoff chandelier during their visit to SF? I’ve spent a couple of hours in these places altogether, and I’ve never seen anyone buying anything, not even the $10 bejeweled giraffe figurines by the front door. Just browsers. Gawkers, actually.
Together, these stores take up 5 floors of prime retail space in the Union Square area. They’ve been there for years. If they’re not ‘for real’, then what exactly is the deal? I’m not sure what’s less likely: This being a viable business or it being a ‘front’ or tax dodge of some kind. Who knows, maybe you can get pillows lined with heroin and cocaine! So I bounce back and forth between these two implausible theories, and a mystery endures…
“Enough pictures, enough pictures,” the guy says, and this time I sense my time is up. I think I got what I need though, so I go quietly, almost tripping on a lifesize fake bronze sad little butterfly-holding cherub on my way out.
If you have any knowledge or experience with these places, please leave a comment or contact me!