If you know skateboarding, you know Thrasher magazine. Founded in San Francisco in 1981 by the late Eric Swenson and Fausto Vitello, it's an icon of skater culture, spawning more than three decades of music, skateboarding videos and books. The magazine alone boasts an annual circulation of more than 250,000.
Despite all the changes in San Francisco over the past 38 years, Thrasher continues to operate out of the Hunters Point space (1303 Underwood Ave.) it's occupied since shortly after its inception.
But while the space serves as a warehouse and houses Thrasher's business operations and offices, it’s not really a place people can easily access, explained Tony Vitello, who took over as Thrasher's owner after his father's death in 2006.
Thrasher aimed to change that last fall by opening its first retail shop at 66 Sixth Street. Housed near Union Square and the Westfield Mall, it's a “come and visit” location that's convenient for out-of-towners, Vitello said. But it's also become a hub for Tenderloin locals, and the city's skateboarding community.
Last month, Thrasher — both the magazine and the company — received a Community Impact Award from Mayor London Breed. The award recognized Thrasher not only for its history, but also for its efforts to welcome neighbors of all walks of life into its new shop.
"They were recognized for the impact they have made in the skateboarding community not just locally, but internationally as well," said Gloria Chan, spokesperson for the Mayor's Office on Economic and Workforce Development, of the award. "[Thrasher's] commitment to [the] Mid-Market neighborhood exemplifies their dedication and impact."
When he first started looking for a retail space for Thrasher, Vitello hadn't targeted the Tenderloin and Mid-Market specifically. But when the 66 Sixth Street address came open — matching the infamous "number of the beast" — he couldn't resist. Plus, the space was the perfect size.
Thrasher's longtime editor Jake Phelps, who tragically passed away in March at age 56, talked extensively about the new location as a space for people to experience the magazine and its history, Vitello explained.
Historical documents on display in the store revolve around San Francisco's skateboarding past, from photographs of skateboarders on the Bay Bridge the first day it reopened after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to a video wall featuring the GX1000 crew hill-bombing some of the city’s steepest slopes.
Vitello said he sees opening a shop in the Tenderloin as a big opportunity to help build community, both for skaters and the neighborhood at large. He's already hosted a few block parties on nearby Jessie Alley, activating the space with ramps, jumps, and offerings from nearby shops like Pentacle Coffee.
One of the block parties served as a memorial for Pablo Ramirez, a 26-year-old professional skateboarder who was killed in an April collision with a dump truck on Seventh Street, just a couple of blocks from Thrasher's storefront.
In May, the shop hosted a similar gathering to commemorate Phelps and his contributions to the skating community. (The magazine also posted an art tribute to Phelps this week.)
Vitello was only notified of Breed's intention to give Thrasher a Community Impact Award the day before the ceremony. He said it was an honor to be acknowledged, and expressed excitement about an announcement Breed made during the ceremony: that she planned to support the construction of a new skatepark in the city.
“That’s what’s important now, is to leverage this recognition to help push our goals forward,” Vitello said. “The skateboarding community is more multi-cultural than a lot of San Francisco these days, and it is holding strong when many other artist communities are being pushed out."
This Sunday, June 23, Thrasher is planning to co-host another block party on Jessie Street (at Sixth). It's partnering with new neighbor Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit that connects formerly incarcerated people with jobs that help improve quality of life in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market.
The party, which runs from noon to 6 p.m., will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Urban Alchemy’s new location, a petting zoo, and some jumps, courtesy of Thrasher.
Vitello hopes neighbors who can't make the party will drop into Thrasher's shop. It doesn't matter whether you are a skateboarder or intend to buy anything, he said — you're still welcome to come in and say hello.
“The Tenderloin is already working hard at finding things for people to be proud of,” said Vitello. He hopes that Thrasher can be part of that effort.