The delightful department store known as Gump’s, which closed its doors in December of 2018 after 158 years as one of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks, will be reopening under new ownership on October 16 at 250 Post Street in Union Square, only one block from where the famed retailer recently shut down.
Originally founded in 1861 by brothers Salomon and Gustave Gump, the store initially sold picture frames and mirrors, and specialized in gilding frames in gold. The store eventually began to expand its offerings by stocking luxury items imported from Asia, and grew to become an eclectic museum of unique offerings as well as a beloved San Francisco landmark and tradition.
For over a century and a half, San Francisco locals and tourists alike marveled at the unique merchandise offered at Gump’s, the go-to source for unique and exotic collectibles, gifts, and imported furniture. The store specialized in high-quality imports from Asia, ranging from fine jewelry to furniture and even statues, but also sold designer items from Europe.
Gump’s unfortunate bankruptcy and eventual closing in 2018 left an irreplaceable gap in the city, and San Franciscans mourned a lost local tradition.
To the delight of locals, the new Gump’s will open at 250 Post Street, a locale that the retailer had occupied for most of its lifetime from 1909 to 1994, having relocated there following the historic earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco in 1906. Still, the new store measures only 2,000 square feet, and is dramatically smaller than its predecessor, which once spread over three full levels.
All in the Family
Gump’s is opening under new ownership, but continuing its lifelong legacy as a family-run business. John Chachas, a board member of the former Gump’s establishment, who was fascinated by the store and its unique offerings as a child, purchased the brand name and trademarks for $650,000 earlier in 2019. While Chachas remains as the company’s CEO, he and his wife Diane recently transferred the majority of their shares in the company to their three children, who are now own the owners of the business, with daughter Anne Chachas as the company’s new Executive Vice President.
“Gump’s is such a whimsical, elegant, old-school store with a rich San Francisco history,” commented Annie Chachas. “We’re ecstatic to bring it back, and we promise the same service and sophistication that Gump’s was known for.”
The Chachas are fully invested in retaining the family-business tradition at Gump’s, and they each feel a personal connection to the Gump’s brand as part of their own family legacy. In fact, Anne Chachas received her first string of pearls as a gift from her father, purchased at the old Gump’s.
Antoinette Gump, a direct descendant of the Grump brothers, also expressed her delight, commenting, “The exciting thing is to have it back in our building.” The Gump family still owns a majority stake in the Union Square property where the new store is located.
The Chachas will continue to sell the same unique and exotic merchandise as the old Gump’s: the same exquisite jewelry, rare cultured freshwater pearls, semiprecious stones, jade and coral, exotic ornaments, tableware, linens, clothing, furniture, and designer items.
The Giant Buddha that Stood at the Entrance to Gump’s
To the chagrin of many, one iconic item that will no longer be on display at the new store is the beloved giant statue of Buddha that for decades watched over the store’s entrance and greeted visitors.
But the statue, always a great conversation starter and a major attraction for visitors, has an interesting story of its own. John Chachas, while sitting on the board of directors at Gump’s, was awarded ownership of the ‘Asian decorative fixture’ as a consequence of a negotiation he arranged with Hanover Direct, although the condition of the award required him to leave the statue at the store grounds or replace it with an exact replica.
Once Chachas saw that the store was about to close late last year, he recovered his statue and ordered the construction of the replica. He then sold the original statue on auction at Christies in Hong Kong in May. The sale of the giant Buddha, which was originally valued at $240,000 when Chachas acquired it in 2005, garnered an impressive $4 million.
The statue, described as an “important and monumental” item of religious statuary and the largest example of its type, turned out to be the brand’s lucky charm after all. This surprising source of sudden revenue gave Chachas the capital he needed to pursue his dream. Using the earnings from the sale, he purchased the Gump’s brand name and trademark, and set about planning the grand reopening of Gump’s in San Francisco.
While the statue is too large to fit in the new retail space, the Chachas have promised shoppers a grand opening with elaborate holiday décor, the famed traditional Gump’s Holiday windows, and an immersive and glamorous shopping experience much like the experience of shopping at the old Gump’s.
Will the New Gump’s Survive the Digital Age?
But the question still stands: if the old Gump’s, which was so popular and successful for 158 years, succumbed to the trials and tribulations of other brick-and-mortar establishments in the age of online shopping, what’s to keep the new store open?
Clearly, the new owners have to take into account the reasons that the old Gump’s ultimately closed, and develop strategies to guard against that happening again.
According to Helen Bulwik, a Bay Area-based retail consultant, the main reason the store closed was due to an inability to appeal to younger customers. “There will always be a customer for Gump’s,” she reiterated, “provided Gump’s begins to realize who that customer actually is.” Bulwik believes that Gump’s must accommodate its affluent, urban professional customer base in San Francisco. “They’re in their 30s and 40s, with expendable income,” she noted.
To accommodate the shopping tendencies of that particular demographic, Gump’s will also launch, in tandem with its new store, the grand opening of its online platform at www.gumps.com. The online outlet will feature the same unique and high-quality merchandise as the San Francisco store, but it will now be available for shoppers all over the world – be they curious passersby or transplanted San Franciscans, or anyone who has ever spent time in San Francisco and can’t help but feel some nostalgia for the traditional Gump’s brand.