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In May of 1960 Cliff's Variety Store opened in its third location, 495 Castro Street. Three of the space-saving machines were set up in the new space: the ribbon machine and two button machines. Ernie was a native genius and was able to fix almost anything. People brought in nearly everything to be repaired: televisions, radios, toasters, lamps, locks, clocks, windows, and the kitchen sink.

Alice DeBaca, Ernie's wife, worked the store and took care of their grandson, Ernie Asten. In 1963 she suffered a stroke. It took more than a year for her to recover to the point where she could visit the store in her wheelchair and later with her walker. Ernie and Alice's daughter, Lorraine, returned to help run the store in Alice's absence. However, Lorraine's husband was in the Navy stationed on the East Coast, and she needed to be with him. Ernie Asten was by this time old enough to help out at the store after school. He would mind the store while his grandfather went home for dinner, but more help was necessary and a few other employees were hired. One of these was Lena Sozzi, who worked for Cliff's from 1964 until her death in May of 1989. Martha Sullivan, Ernie Asten's girlfriend, started helping out at Halloween and Christmas. In the summer of 1968 Martha started full time. Ernie and Martha married in 1969 and they have been at Cliff's ever since.

The Eureka Valley was a sleepy neighborhood in the early 1960's, then the Haight-Ashbury "happened" and San Francisco had an incredible influx of people. When the apartments in the Haight filled up, some of the overflow came to Eureka Valley. The weather was nice and the flats were spacious and cheap, so groups of "hippies" moved in. After the Summer of Love many of the hippies drifted away to communes in Oregon and other destinations. By the mid-sixties there were already a few gay owned businesses on Castro Street: a gift shop, a record store, and an antique shop; and there was a bar, The Missouri Mule, on Market Street. Gay men and lesbians were becoming more visible on Castro Street. Gays started buying the old houses recognizing the potential of these neglected Victorians. As the property values rose families were selling and moving to the suburbs. As gays moved in gay bars replaced the straight bars and the sleepy neighborhood took on a new and different life. Other businesses in the area were changing. Property values were rising and it was inevitable that commercial rents would increase.

In early 1971 the landlord of 495 Castro Street told Ernie DeBaca that his rent would triple when his lease expired later that year. Fortune smiled on Ernie and Cliff's when the Bon Omi store (a five and dime) went out of business. The day it closed Ernie made an offer on the building and purchased 479 Castro Street in August of 1971.

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Store Hours
Monday - Friday
09:00am. - 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.
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