“When we first opened up the shop, it was just a business to us. But we think it's evolved into something much greater than that.”
Posted at the register of their Fillmore Street storefront, its walls lined with local accolades, Tricia and Ron Benitez of Asmbly Hall (located at 1850 Fillmore Street) speak with a quiet confidence that reflects their steady approach to retail, and also helps maintain a mellow energy for their toddler daughter, Harlow. After six years in the upscale Fillmore shopping district, they’ve learned the importance of striking a balance between keeping it real and keeping it cool.
“This area of Fillmore Street has been kind of high-end and affluent. And I think we knew what kind of business that we wanted to open: something that was accessible, a little bit easier on the price point, somewhere we could see ourselves shopping, and we didn't see that in this neighborhood. So I think it was also trying to fill in a little niche that was missing. We felt like, 'We're young and we're hip and we don't want to break the bank, and we don't feel like there's a shop for us in this neighborhood, so why don't we just put one there?’” Tricia says.
With years of combined retail expertise between them, Ron and Tricia’s brainchild quickly blossomed into the space that is Asmbly Hall — a space specially curated to present local brands and rare, artisan-made products at prices that are friendly to everyone in the neighborhood. In this way, Asmbly Hall is a continuation of the legacy of small business ownership in Tricia’s family, former grocers in Vallejo and the South of Market.
“My grandparents owned a Filipino grocery store — Evangelista Grocery — in Vallejo, and then they expanded into South City and San Francisco, in the SOMA on 8th and Howard, which my dad took over in the '70s. We were one of the first Asian-American grocery stores here in the Bay Area, and we imported fish, fruit, and treats from The Philippines. So from a young age, when i was a child, my brother and I would be brought to the store -- we were shop kids. But I think the nice thing about that grocery store that we also see here at Asmbly Hall is that we see return customers, and then a lot of people who are customers become friends,” Tricia says
Continuing the legacy of business ownership is something that Ron and Tricia both feel is important not just for their own family, but for the Filipino-American community at large — especially as younger generations look more and more to less traditional career routes.
“My father was in the Navy and my mom was a nurse, so I had a pretty traditional upbringing, and that's probably what a lot of people might think of when they think of a Filipino family. And so being a small business owner is I think very empowering for this generation of Filipino-Americans to step out of the comfort zone and take risks and know that there are other career opportunities out there to help make a positive impact on your community and your neighborhood,” Ron says.
For Ron and Tricia, this means supporting an ever-growing roster of local vendors and Filipino-owned operations, reinforcing the values of community and cooperative competition that Asmbly Hall stands for.
“We’re proud to sell locally-made knits, neckties, and bow ties by Ronnie Escalante, accessories and textiles ranging from laptop cases and bags to rugs and footwear by Ilano, and of course, our own Asmbly Hall locally-made and printed tees and sweatshirts and cut & sew jackets. We’re also proud to present the work of local artists like Lee Queza and Jeramie Tolentino and Gem Mateo. It’s a diverse range of styles and we’re happy to be the spot where all these ideas can gather.”
With six years firmly under their belts, Asmbly Hall is doubling down on positively impacting their community, and they see Undiscovered SF as a key site for fostering the community and culture that will sustain future Filipino-American generations.
“I think Undiscovered is a great way for people of our generation and younger to see what kinds of avenues are out there for them to touch. So it's really a community, cultural experience -- we've met Filipino people from all over the Bay Area, from Canada, from Chicago, all parts of the United States, and it’s really encouraging to connect with them and see how inspired they are and enthusiastic they are about their own projects. Now that we have Harlow, to see a Filipino-American cultural district that's growing and will be there for the next generation, for her generation to have something and somewhere to feel her roots and see her identity, and go somewhere it's a distinct space for her culture, I think that's important for us to be a part of and help grow,” Tricia says.