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Drunk-shopping at TopShelf, San Francisco's first mobile boutique

Lauren Murrow | April 26, 2012 | Lifestyle Style & Beauty Story Style Fashion Shopping

Goodbye, pop-up shop. Hello...truck stop? Thirty-one-year-old retail buyer–turned–bartender Christina Ruiz's new boutique, TopShelf, combines her two loves—fashion and booze—in the unlikely form of a 24-foot-long 1981 Chevy step-van. Following the growing fleet of mobile stores in cities like L.A. (Le Fashion Truck, Shop Truck L.A., Rolling Threads, Skullastic) and Portland (Lodekka, Wanderlust, Showvroom), Ruiz is introducing San Francisco's first boutique-on-wheels this weekend, stocking new womenswear and accessories from a dozen San Francisco, L.A., and New York designers.

You might expect cramped and dingy quarters, but TopShelf's interior is surprisingly comfortable, decked with hardwood floors, floral wallpaper, and antique accents culled from Bay Area flea markets and vintage stores. We caught up with Ruiz on the eve of her launch to talk about the process of converting a dilapidated yellow Chevy into a styled-out portable shop. Catch the TopShelf truck's debut tomorrow at Bloodhound Bar (1145 Folsom St., S.F., 415-863-2840; 4–9).

Why open a boutique on wheels rather than a typical storefront?
I kept getting outbid for retail space by larger companies, so I started thinking about the food truck craze. I reached out to the girls behind Le Fashion Truck in L.A. and they encouraged me to go for it. A brick-and-mortar store is just another store; a fashion truck is edgier, and a little more irregular, which fits in with my life.

What were you doing before this?
I studied fashion at FIDM and worked in the buying office for Macy's corporate for a while. Eventually, I got frustrated with the 9-to-5 structure, and that's when I got into the bar business. It's been a nine-year job turned career.

Which bars have you worked at?
You name it, I've worked there. Right now I work for Bloodhound and Double Dutch.

Apart from the name, what's TopShelf's bar connection?
I'm going to be pulling up to rotating happy hours at different bars. I'll be at Bloodhound, Eastside West, R Bar, Wreck Room, and possibly Northstar, at this point.

So, drunk-shopping as a business plan?
Well, I don't need drunk people spilling out of my trunk, but that's why I'm doing happy hours. People can get buzzed and do a little shopping. I'll move on by the time they're on their fourth drink.

Tell me about the truck.
It's a 7-by-24-foot 1981 Chevy step-van, about 10 feet tall. I found this truck in Vallejo and fell in love with it. It originally had a yellow slat wall inside and a black-and-white checkerboard floor. It looked like a car stereo shop.

What went into the renovation process?
I added retrofitted Victorian door plates for fixtures, antique mirrors, and teal and gold floral wallpaper. The truck feels like a big walk-in closet now, complete with hardwood floors, a dressing room, and a check-out area.

What are your favorite Bay Area vintage sources?
Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley, the Alameda Flea Market, and When Modern Was in Noe Valley.

How many people can you squeeze into a 7-by-24 foot space? Will you have a bouncer?
I don't know that more than three or four people can be in the truck at one time. The launch is this weekend, so I'll have to experiment.

Do you have truck-driving experience?
I'm slowly getting better; in the meantime, I'm investing in a backup camera. I drive slow and steady...if people get mad they can go around me.

Do you think women will really want to go shopping in a truck?
It was really important to me to keep my price-point low, since I think the truck atmosphere is more conducive to impulse buys. No one wants to buy a $300 top out of a truck. I sell funky, trendy fashion at a good price.

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