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Victoria Dunham is bucking the trend.

At a time when many small businesses with unique offerings have been priced out and forced off Fillmore Street, the proprietor of the HiHo Silver jewelry store at 1904 Fillmore has just opened a second shop next door, doubling her retail space.

“I live in this neighborhood, too,” she says. “I know what it means to have mom-and-pop stores here, and this is a mom-and-pop — or at least a mom.”

In mid-July, Dunham opened a new boutique one door north, naming it simply for its address: 1906. The spot allows her to showcase the many gems and curiosities she finds too weird or wonderful to resist while traveling the world scouting for silver: scarves and shawls, framed insects, stainless steel vases, sting ray wallets and coin purses and polished wooden boxes.

“The bugs, baskets and textiles were all in hiding in the other place,” she says of her 300 square foot HiHo shop next door. “This new space liberates them.”

Among the items now on display are finds from her spring shopping trip to Thailand and Burma.

While traveling, Dunham seeks out people she wants to support and do business with, as well as objects to sell in her shops. Over the years, she has forged relationships with craftspeople and with nonprofit groups that make it possible for local villagers to earn an income and preserve traditional crafts. She says: “It feels good to get involved with something I know is helping people — truly making a difference in many lives.”

Some cases in point:

• She offers scarves and shawls in ikats, silk and cotton by Studio Naenna, a nonprofit training ground for young weavers and a source of support for master weavers in Thailand.

• From Siam With Love provides sophisticated textiles made in Thailand by villagers who farm by day and weave by night.

• And from Sop Moei Arts, a nonprofit working with artisans in the Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand, she imports more intricate textiles and unique baskets.


Dunham says the added space has also helped refuel her love of retail. “I’m going to offer whatever I find that I think is cool. And there are cool things everywhere,” she says. “The ‘this and that’ part of the shop is what’s exciting, and now it’s more visible.”

One of her associates says it’s already been good for sales: “In this new space, the framed bugs are just flying out the door.”

“I never wanted to have a shop — I thought that would be the worst thing in the world,” confesses Dunham, whose foray into shopowning on Fillmore has been marked by several serendipitous turns.

“At around age 15, I swore I would wear only silver,” she says, a vow she has strictly honored ever since. Dunham began collecting in earnest 25 years ago when she and her sister-in-law took a trip to Taxco, a small city in the north-central part of Mexico renowned for its finely crafted silverwork. They returned laden with it.

The idea of combining her passion for silver with her natural wanderlust emerged a few years later.

“A good friend had just lost her husband, and my son had just turned 2½, so it seemed we both needed something to do — and an excuse to go to Mexico a couple of times a year,” she says. “We started pulling in silver to sell, mostly to friends at trunk shows in our homes.”

At some point, supply and demand outgrew that casual method of doing business, and Dunham took a small room in Fort Mason to show and sell silver about 20 weekends every year. That was an ideal arrangement for a while, particularly when Fort Mason swarmed with eager shoppers drawn to events such as the San Francisco Landscape and Garden Show. “They’d come in with hoes in one hand and discretionary income in the other,” she says.


What became less than ideal: packing up, setting up, breaking down and bringing back the wares again — only to repeat the process the next weekend. “The schlepping back and forth became onerous,” she says. “And my son, by then old enough to help, came to truly dread Sunday nights.”

That’s when it began to dawn that a permanent shop might not be the worst thing after all. She lived only a block from Fillmore Street, and began to consider renting a storefront. “Then, about seven years ago, this fell into my lap,” she says, waving her arm around the tasteful HiHo Silver shop at 1904 Fillmore. She happened by just as the family that ran Maruya, the takeout sushi shop that had been there for nearly half a century, was considering retirement.

She took over and outfitted the space with chests and displays and stocked them with bracelets, necklaces, pendants, pins and a few other miscellaneous items — nearly all of them crafted from silver, much of it from Mexico. But in short order, other curiosities began making their way into the shop: items too interesting or unique or well crafted or whimsical to be left behind during her jewelry shopping excursions. They included finely woven baskets from Bali, indigo-dyed cotton scarves snagged by the armload from a weekend market in Bangkok, graphite sculptures of hands and heads and gingko leaves that could be used as writing instruments.

As the shelves in HiHo Silver began to groan, serendipity struck again. Just as Dunham was returning from another buying trip, a friend alerted her that a “for lease” sign had just been posted next door on the storefront at 1906 Fillmore, in recent years a showplace for artist Cassandria Blackmore. It was owned by the same landlord. Dunham moved quickly to ink a deal to extend her lease at 1904 Fillmore and take over 1906 Fillmore in an easy negotiation completed down the street at Burger King, where the landlord found parking easier.

She was about to leave on a buying trip to Southeast Asia — the perfect opportunity to stock a new store.


While the two shops have similar vibes and aesthetics, the distinct locales allow for a separation between jewelry and other items for sale. Dunham also makes it a point to stock items “from low to high end” in both shops. She points out that shoppers at HiHo Silver can choose among earrings for $20 or $250 necklaces. “For me, it’s always been about having something for everyone — a diverse collection,”
she says. “We’re not snooty here.”

It may also help that Dunham staffs the store with her friends.

“My mantra for hiring people is I have to know you,” she says. “And you must be over 60.” In truth, the current sales associates range in age from 46 to 79; the youngest, she says, was “grandmothered in.”

“I’m not going to back to Burma,” she says, eyeing the exquisitely engraved, painted and polished cups and bowls she discovered there on her most recent trip while enduring the blistering heat. “I have everywhere else in Asia to go,” she adds.

“But I definitely want to get some more of these,” she says, patting a pile of small purses crafted from teak leaves by “some of the sweetest, nicest people” in northern Thailand. “This new shop, it will definitely encourage me to do more traveling — and buying. That feels pretty damn good.”