ARCH Drafts a New Chapter at CCA

image of Arch retail store front with prominent callout for arch

In September the CCA community was elated when news broke that beloved art and drafting supply retail store ARCH would be moving to CCA’s San Francisco campus.

A few months earlier, the shop and its loyal customers were taken aback when ARCH became the latest San Francisco institution to be served with an eviction notice.

Learn more »

ARCH, which opened its doors in 1978 and for the past 13 years served the San Francisco CCA community from its nearby Potrero Hill location, was disappointed, but took the opportunity to revisit an old idea -- operate from CCA’s campus.

“It goes back 15 years,” said Susie Coliver, ARCH’s owner and founder.

“When we had to move out of Jackson Square in 2001, then Architecture chair David Meckel was the first person I called, and I said, ‘David, don’t you have a little bit of space for us? Can’t you find a space for us?’

“And he said, ‘It would be great, but it’s not in the cards and we have all sorts of master planning to do and who knows, maybe someday, but not now.’"

See images of ARCH at CCA »

CCA’s Back Lot Opens New Doors

As fate would have it, the newly acquired and renovated Back Lot would, for the first time, allow the school enough room to accommodate the much-loved art supply store.

Additionally, the art and architecture community’s outpouring of support encouraged ARCH not to give up, despite skyrocketing rent prices throughout the Bay Area that threatened the shut Arch’s doors for good.

“When we got our notice, I started looking at real estate in this area and just got completely demoralized by what they were asking per square foot. I just thought,  ‘Oh my god, we’re just going to have to close,’” said Coliver.

“So then I called David, and right on that first phone call he said ‘funny you should ask -- we’re developing the rear lot with a bunch of containers. Could ARCH run out of a container?’

“And I said, ‘if that’s what it takes, we’ll make it happen.’”

Added Coliver: “It’s falling into place. Part of what feels so good to us is we didn’t know the role we were playing in the community. As soon as KQED ran a story about us moving, people just came out of the woodwork to tell us how much they valued us and how important we were to what they do.

“Students came in practically in tears; faculty came in and said, ‘we’ll work with you, whatever it takes.’ We were surrounded by this wonderful communal embrace that we didn't know we had engendered. That really lifted us.”

ARCH Spreads Its Wings

As plans for the Back Lot shifted, however, ARCH ended up settling in the back half of the Campus Center Student Lounge on the San Francisco campus -- a spot that is not just open to students, faculty, and alumni but also to the public.

Now in its fourth incarnation, ARCH has also opened another spot in San Francisco’s Dog Patch neighborhood, where the owners intend to sell all of their gift shop items in addition to their usual art supplies.

(And, yes, Otto the Boston terrier will likely be there, too.)

“That was the first question people asked when they found out we’d be on campus: ‘Will Otto be there?’” said Coliver, who keeps a cutout likeness of the popular pooch on a shelf overlooking the CCA store.

CCA Swag Coming Your Way

The college’s new retail storefront will also give students the opportunity to purchase CCA swag from an on-campus outlet, rather than purchasing favorite items online.

“We’re looking now for opportunities to do things collaboratively with the school… . There’s this tremendous goodwill, and I think real genuine excitement. We don't know what that might turn into,” said Mac Warrick, longtime manager of ARCH.

“I definitely think we want to go into the rest of this semester and feel it out a little bit, both in that sense and also in materials we carry or should be carrying, things like that.

“It’s very interesting to sort of wrap our minds around events we could hold, and the school seems very excited in doing things like that.”

Business Models That Matter

Coliver notes that despite being a small business, part of what makes ARCH worth fighting for, is its ethics.

“The customers come in because they’ve developed relationships with the staff, but part of why our staff stays with us is because the customers treat them well, as does the ownership.

Our staff has really good benefits -- full medical benefits, full paid vacation times, holidays, 401Ks -- all these other good things that people need to be able to live a full life.

“Everybody’s able to put food on the table and go to the movies and take a vacation and enjoy their job. It’s important to me, as the owner.”

Far from their humble Jackson Square beginnings, ARCH is excited to see what its next chapter will bring.

“You don't want to have to move; it’s messy and a lot of work, but at the same time I think in about a few months we’re going to look back on this and think, ‘this was just perfect’.

“I can already get that feeling from all the staff.  . . .  It’s given us new eyes on everything; it’s fun in a way.”