Stripe Stores: Nurturing Creative Community Through Design, Fashion, and First Friday

On First Friday, there’s guaranteed to be an energized crowd mingling over cocktails and the latest exhibit at Stripe and Stripe MEN in downtown Santa Cruz. Fashion-forward baby boomers rub elbows with bohemian millennials between inspiring displays of hand-crafted home and fashion accessories, racks of urban-chic sweaters and jumpsuits, and an eclectic selection of thoughtful gifts. Above the merchandise is a rotating gallery space, decorated each month with the work of a local artist.

The gallery component is central to owner Suna Lock’s vision of cultivating purpose, experience, and community in both stores. The importance of this vision shows in Locke’s commitment to hosting First Friday events—since the original store opened in 2009, the business has featured a new artist every First Friday except for one, and only because it fell on the 4th of July.

Blending the lines between retail shop and gallery    

The main Stripe store was originally designed as a gallery space by Thacher & Thompson Architects. The tall ceilings and ample wall space create a large blank canvas, ideal for someone with a creative eye and passion for art. It was this design of the space that first attracted Locke to the store and inspired her to build the First Friday art tour into her original business plan. “It’s a brilliant way for us to invite members of the community into the store and get people from all walks of life, without it being a pushy sales event,” says Lock.

As the past president for the Downtown Association and as a member of the Santa Cruz Arts Commission, Lock is deeply committed to improving the downtown experience for all types of community members. First Friday gives her the opportunity to create a fun, welcoming gathering space, and it’s a great way to visually transform the stores, regularly providing a new landscape for customers to explore.

“We have the benefit of having our landscape changed dramatically from month to month,” says Lock. “From the photographer to the textile artist to the painter, it’s incredible how the store environment can change.”

An even trade  

Stripe shows its appreciation for this monthly facelift, and the new customers First Friday attracts to the stores, by giving 100% of the sales from the art to the artist. “I feel like it’s such an even trade,” says Lock.

Artists also tend to sell several pieces when they display their work at Stripe or Stripe MEN. Lock believes it’s because when you enter the stores, you’re already in a shopping mindset— it’s also probably because the Stripe team is very conscious of how they display and promote the art.

Lock and her team plan out the artists a full year in advance to complement the window and in-store merchandise displays. Lock explains that it’s a delicate balance between choosing a body of work that won’t clash with the stores’ current selection of clothing and home decor, while still standing out as its own intentional art piece.

They even have an in-house curator (a coveted position given to one of the sales associates) to help plan out and coordinate the artists. When deciding which artists to feature, the curator tries to ensure the medium changes from show to show. Lock also likes to feature contentious work that may surprise and even shock the viewer. “Stripe’s always challenged the status quo,” she says, “and so I don’t care if the art dichotomizes people—I think that’s exciting.”  

Giving back

In recent years, Stripe’s First Friday events have also turned into opportunities to give back to local and global charities. In traditional First Friday spirit, cocktails are still technically free, but there’s now a suggested donation for each tasty beverage. In June, Stripe raised $330 for Planned Parenthood and sent the donation courtesy of Mike Pence. Lock flashes a wicked grin and explains, “He gets a thank you card for every donation made in his name.”

As the host of First Friday events at Stripe & Stripe MEN every month for the last 10 years, Lock has never been able to experience the other art happenings surrounding her lively stores. Even without touring other venues, however, she has a clear picture of what First Friday is like for the rest of the community. “I imagine it as this super bohemian, lovely, warm and fun progressive art crawl where you can see new things and bump into friends,” she says.

If you attend one of Stripe’s First Friday events, you’ll see why Lock doesn’t have to venture beyond her Walnut Avenue shops to understand what attracts people of all ages to explore the local art scene every month—it’s here that you can find the pulse of First Friday’s creative culture, surrounded by beautiful new and vintage treasure, friendly people, and walls of local art.

July’s First Friday artist at Stripe is landscape painter Susan Migliore. Susan primarily works outside in the plein air painting tradition. Learn more about her work on her website.

Stripe MEN is showing the work of local printmaker Louise Leong. You can learn more about Louise, a member of the Little Giant Collective, on her website.

Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves sharing her community’s vibrant culture through her writing.