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A Family Affair Rooted in History: Cliff's Variety Store

If you’ve ever been to the Castro in San Francisco, you’ve certainly meandered into Cliff’s Variety Store. From toys and crafts to kitchen hardware, Cliff’s carries anything and everything you can think of. There hasn’t been a time where I’ve walked out empty handed. Founded in 1936 by Hilario DeBaca, Cliff’s was named after Hilario’s youngest son, Clifford. Although it has moved around the Castro a few times, Cliff’s has remained a center piece in the Castro community. It was one of the first Castro businesses to hire openly gay employees. Hilario’s great great grand daughter, Terry Asten Bennet, now general manager and co-owner of Cliff’s, took me to the upstairs lunch room to chat a little more about the rich history behind her business.

“I was about 24 years old or was it 23? I’m not sure. But my parents told my sister and I that Sav-On Drugs had offered my parents millions of dollars to buy the store and that this was a one time opportunity. So my sister and I had to decide if we wanted to run the store in the future or agree to sell. And immediately my sister said ‘Terry can run it and she can just send me some money’ “ Terry chuckled.

Not only did she grow up in the store but her family worked with Harvey Milk to grow emerging small businesses in the area in the 1970s. Terry and her family have been connected to their community for the better part of a century.

Although things have been difficult for Cliff’s Variety Store and its employees this year as with many businesses, they have managed to stay afloat. “It’s been super exhausting but we’re very fortunate to own the building and have incredible employees. The one thing we said at the beginning of all this was: what can we do to make sure there’s still a community on the other side of this.” Terry explains. At the start of the pandemic, Terry would spend $200 on neighborhood restaurants for staff lunches for 3 months to support small businesses around her. It’s clear her and Cliff’s Variety Store are an essential part of the Castro community!

Stop by Cliff’s Variety Store any day of the week from 10am to 6:30pm for anything from stickers to tools!

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