Even though you’ll undoubtedly see Lou Briasco and his dog Eurydice walking around the Castro come 2017, you will no longer be able to frequent Michael Bruno Luggage. Briasco’s Upper Market shop. Briasco has made the decision to close the store on December 31st.
Michael Bruno Luggage has sold thousands of items over the past three plus decades; however, between now and December 31st, all inventory—including everything from suitcases to garment bags to fanny packs to picture frames—must go.
Briasco attributed both his personal health and the store’s lease as reasons that he decided to call it quits. The store owner was in the hospital for nearly five weeks last year, during which time Michael Bruno Luggage was closed. “I need to get off my feet to heal,” said Briasco.
In the past year, the rent of Briasco’s retail space has increased from $3,700 to $5,200. But, according to Briasco, his lease is up. “It means that if I started to negotiate for a new lease, the rent was gonna go up,” said Briasco. “It’s currently below market rate, but if it goes up, it would take all of the profit away from the store.”
The longtime Castro business owner claims that he is in business today because of the landlord that he had when he first moved into 2267 Market St. Ron Basemer was the owner of Hearth Reality and, as Briasco says, “he was a peach.”
In 1984, Michael Bruno Luggage operated out of one half of the current Active Nutrition Castro store (the front of the space was a card store called You Send Me). “I was very unhappy in that space next door,” said Briasco. According to him, Basemer came in one day and asked him if Briasco would be interested in the recently vacated 2267 Market St. retail space.
“I told him that I couldn’t justify spending that much on rent,” said Briasco. “So he lowered it.” That initial rent reduction paved the way for Michael Bruno Luggage to open up shop in its current space, and to become a Castro retail cornerstone.
“A year later,” said Briasco, “I get a phone call from Basemer, and he says, ‘Lou, how’s business?’ I say, ‘Gee Ron, I don’t like to talk figures, but I’ll tell you that it takes me 15 days a month to make the rent.’ He goes, ‘Oh, that’s too much, I’ll get back to you.’”
According to Briasco, Basemer showed up at the luggage store 45 minutes later. While he was attending to a customer, the landlord handed Briasco a sheet of paper, said “I hope this helps,” and walked out of the shop.
“He’d agreed to a $200 long-term rent reduction,” said Briasco, holding back tears. “People don’t do that anymore. That landlord wanted a gay, sole-proprietor business in this spot, and he knew I wasn’t making a killing at his expense.”
Interestingly, Briasco told us how in 1985, the Chronicle
ran an article about shopping along Upper Market. “The thing that
people complained about most then? The rent." He observed that "none of those retail stores are here now except for us."
The Bostonian’s story is an intriguing one, and according to Briasco, his store’s biggest challenge over the years had nothing to do with selfish landlords or economic recessions.
In 1993, Briasco brought his sick mother from Massachusetts to live with him in his Market Street apartment. “We cut back 30 percent in the hours we were open, and gross sales went down 13 percent,” said Briasco.
According to him, he’d fix her lunch in the middle of the day and he set up room monitors to know when to switch her VHS tapes. “It was very hard doing that,” he said. Briasco’s mother lived with him until she passed away in January of 1995.
As for the best thing about owning Michael Bruno Luggage, Briasco said the neighborhood. "I could not have asked for a better work environment," he said. "Every other job I had, there came a time where I said I really don't want to go to work. I've never felt that way here."
"I thank all of the customers that we've had for that," said Briasco. "It's been wonderful."
Loyal patrons will be excited (but not surprised) to hear that Briasco
is offering prices even below what’s already written on his sale tags. Stop by before the end of the year to pay your respects to one of the neighborhood's beloved businesses before it's gone.
Never miss a story.
Subscribe today to get Hoodline delivered straight to your inbox.