HomeOur StoryProductsServicesResourcesStore Info

In 1942 Hilario DeBaca moved his store a few doors closer to 18th Street to 515 Castro. This shop, though still quite small, had double the space of the first Cliff's. In 1946 Ernie DeBaca had a motorcycle accident that crushed his ankle. He was laid up for several months recuperating. He had to close his repair shop and he set up a workbench in the back of Cliff's Variety where he could repair small appliances.

On Halloween in 1946 Ernie produced the first Halloween street party on Castro Street. It started very small as a children's costume contest. The first year a stool served as a stage. Each child would stand on the stool and the crowd would applaud. The child with the loudest applause won. The tradition grew over the years with a flat bed truck serving as a stage with lights and a P.A. system. In addition to the costume contest there were musicians, clowns, jugglers and other types of entertainment; and there was an ice cream eating contest and a parade. This tradition of a children's Halloween party continued through the 50's, 60's, and 70's. It came to a sad end in 1979 when instead of hosting hundreds of local children Castro Street had crowds of tens of thousands of rowdy adults fighting and breaking windows. Ernie DeBaca realized that his Halloween tradition had ended.

Cliff's at 515 Castro became the birthplace of many of Ernie DeBaca's innovations in merchandising. To take advantage of the only space left in the store, the ceiling, he created a candy machine that consisted of metal trays full of candy bars. The trays were suspended between two loops of bicycle chain, which ran in tracks. The customer could throw a switch to start a motor to move the chain. The trays at counter level would rise up to the ceiling as the higher trays descended to the customer's reach. This allowed a large selection of candy to be displayed in a small counter space. Later he built a similar device for spools of sewing ribbon (this machine is still operational and can be seen in the Sewing Department of our Annex). More machines followed: two machines for sewing buttons which took cards of buttons for a ride up to the ceiling and the length of the store and back, and similar machines for key blanks, greeting cards, and fabric dyes.

The business grew at this location until the property owner, The Hibernia Bank, decided to demolish the building to provide the bank with a drive-through teller window. Ernie was fond of joking, "They tore the building down so we decided to move." (Drive-through banking was a short-lived phenomenon. A new building with a Sun Glasses Hut now occupies that space.)

In 1947 Ernie and Alice DeBaca's daughter, Lorraine had a son and named him Ernie. In 1952 Hilario DeBaca died.

Previous234NextBack to Top

Store Hours
Monday - Friday
08:30am. - 8:00pm.
09:30am. - 8:00pm.
11:00am. - 6:00pm.
SF Environment
The Sisters
Harvey Milk
Castro Merchants
479 Castro Street. San Francisco, CA 94114 Tel. (415) 431-5365 Mon-Sat 10:00 am. -08:00 pm. | Sun 10:00 am. - 06:00 pm.
Facebook Google+ Instagram