Sarah Laight, the owner of Lower Haight specialty shop Life, is selling the store after nearly 20 years in the neighborhood.
Sarah opened the shop in 1992, selling candles, scents, beauty products and gifts inspired by her travels to Southeast Asia.
The Lower Haight was a very different place in the early ’90s, Sarah recalls.
“I started hanging out in Lower Haight 25 years ago. There were a lot of bars — Nickies, 13%, Toronado, Noc Noc, 508 Haight, Water Bar and eclectic shops along Fillmore Street. My favourite shops were Eye of the Day and Naked Eye.”
But it was serendipity that led her to open a shop of her own.
“I knew of the space before I went travelling around Asia in 1992, and when I came home it was still vacant. I had a twist of fate. I was waiting for an apartment to come up, and had no where to stay. I had parked my car on the corner by O’Looney’s while staying with friends for one night. All my belongings and a big bag of silver jewelry were in the trunk. In the morning, my Falcon had been crowbarred, and everything was taken. Luckily I was insured. But my mum offered me money, and I said I’d rather use the money to open this shop with oils and candles, products that you could refill and recycle. I drew up a design and knocked on the apartment above 604a Haight Street, and met Kelly Dearman, my landlady, a true treasure. That’s how it began. I rented the flat above and the shop.
As Sarah recalls, the Lower Haight was an eclectic place at the time, filled with music.
“[It was] a cross between music lovers and shakers, artists, the rock star contingent and zombies on crack. On a normal sunny day I would arrive at my store with a broken down cadillac in front, with homeless and not so homeless characters smoking away and being serenaded by a sax player. On Sundays, the gospel choirs sang at the church where the lofts are now, over a loudspeaker. Also, where Edo is, there was plenty of singing and tambourines banging away with services all the time.”
But the neighborhood had its challenges as well.
“I would say with sadness, a young boy would come to visit me in the early years, and I have seen many youngsters grow up. Raymon Bass was shot down on the 400 block when he was 17 years old. I had just seen him — he was a lovely child, full of promise and doing well at school. The shooting was mindless, a retaliation for something someone had done in his family. I think he should be remembered. He was a child of the Lower Haight.”
Sarah has been considering selling the shop for a while, but wanted to reach the two-decade mark before making her exit. Now, as Life enters its 20th year, she’s ready to move on.
She recently sold the business to one of her employees, Rika, but says that the shop should largely stay the same after her departure. For Sarah, though, things will change quickly.
“I have been traveling to Bali for years and will be spending more time there, where I designed a Life Hotel. I may be collaborating in the design of a Life cafe, freediving and yoga centre. My goal is to make a museum for the soon to be lost art and 900 year old tradition of salt-making in Eastern Bali. I look forward to coming home to San Francisco and spending more time with my family and friends.”
In this, her final week as a Lower Haight business owner, Sarah will be thanking her customers (and Haighteration readers) with a sale — a 20% discount now through Sunday when you mention Haighteration. That increases to 25% if you pay with cash.
Finally, she’ll be having a send-off party at the shop this Friday, from 6pm to 9pm, if you’d like to swing by and wish her well.
In her own words:
“It’s been nearly 20 years for me and all the good times and faces of my customers visits flash by. I am lucky to have done exactly what I wanted all these years.”
Best of luck, Sarah!