How Giselle Gyalzen Creates an Ever-Changing Dreamscape at Rare Device
"I have always needed an outlet for creativity," Giselle Gyalzen says. But instead of turning exclusively to the arts as an outlet, Gyalzen ventured into retail. "Putting together a store and constantly finding new products for it is a great way for me to be creative."
While you may not know Giselle, you've probably heard of her Rare Device shops. Part art gallery, part home and gift shop, Rare Device is an unending source of inspiration—and that inspiration isn't limited to inventory and art. Gyalzen purchased the store from founders Rena Tom and Lisa Congdon in 2011, and she continues to honor the store's art-driven heritage with community events like art openings, kids sing-a-longs, and live paintings.
Keep reading to learn more about the highs, lows, and wouldn't-trade-it-for-anything experiences Gyalzen has encountered at the helm of Rare Device.
Rockyt: How would you describe your shop?
Giselle: Rare Device is a storefront filled with lovely, approachably designed items. Every object in the store has its own story, and has been chosen because it is either handmade, well-designed, useful, beautiful or all of the above. We also have a rotating gallery featuring the work of the best up and coming artists.
Rockyt: When did you open?
Giselle: I bought and took over the business in February 2011. Rare Device has been around since 2005.
Rockyt: Why did you decide to buy a store?
Giselle: I wanted a place where I can showcase beautiful, well made objects. My interests also lie in a wide variety of things, and I always knew that I [could] put all these varied things together into a cohesive space.
Rockyt: What’s the best thing about owning your own shop?
Giselle: I could not have imagined the multitude of gifts that I have been given during this journey. I've met wonderful, creative people, some of whom have become close friends. I have also grown so much personally through being a small business owner; I constantly need to adapt, get up when I fall, improve upon myself, and really be able to look at myself critically without being punishing in order to keep the business growing and evolving. I am also working with an awesome staff who inspire me and challenge me to grow as much as I challenge them.
Rockyt: What’s the hardest part of doing business in San Francisco?
Giselle: In San Francisco, specifically, it's the cost of doing business. Everything from rent, payroll, taxes, all the overhead expenses. It is expensive to run a business in San Francisco; I'm sure that's not news to anyone. This is hard but it also keeps us innovating and pushes us to do things better and smarter.
Rockyt: Tell me about your day.
Giselle: In addition to running the business, I am also a mom to two wonderful kids, aged 3 and 7. Our family gets up around 7, we have breakfast, get the kids ready for school. I drop off both kids to two different schools. When I'm lucky, I have time for a short walk to get some exercise in. I usually visit our Noe Valley store for a bit.
After that, I head to our office on Divisadero, I look at my calendar and to do list for the day, and start getting things done. There are usually meetings during the day either with my staff or with artists or neighboring businesses. I recently re-started the Divisadero Merchant's Association which has been so good for our neighborhood as a whole, and for me personally. I am a shy introvert and this pushes me to get out there, meet people, talk to them in a meaningful way and make a difference in our neighborhood.
Rockyt: Social media seems to be a big part of small business these days. How much time do you dedicate to social channels?
Giselle: I line up and plan most of our social media posts once a week, but I also spend about 10-15 minutes each day to post and or adjust the plan, depending on if anything unpredictable or new happens during the week.
Rockyt: How do you use social media to promote your business?
Giselle: We post new products, events, general store news on Instagram. I've really been enjoying using Instagram stories lately. It's such a great way to provide a glimpse of the behind the scenes of the business. It's also a nice place to post random (but still relevant) things going through my head. I also love that I can be more funny/punny in it. We use Facebook to promote our events.
Rockyt: There are lots of thought pieces right now about how shoppers are craving unique experiences. What makes your store experience unique?
Giselle: We do this in a few ways. First, we take pride in our customer service. All of us are knowledgeable in the products that we sell and take pride in the artists that we carry. I think that this shows when you shop at RD. We work hard to make everyone feel welcome in the space and give them the room to be immersed in experience of the store by wandering and looking through our products and art.
Second, we have a rotating gallery where we feature up and coming artists work. (You can sometimes walk into the store and see them installing their work.) We also throw a party for [the artists], and this is your chance to meet them in person and ask them questions about their art...or their outfit. In addition, we also host events like Live Drawing where you can watch artists make work, chat with them, and buy work directly from them.
Lastly, we rotate our merchandise a lot, meaning if you come here one time, and you come back a a few weeks later, you will find new products that weren't here the first time around.
Rockyt: What’s one thing customers can find at your shop that they are unlikely to find anywhere else in SF?
Giselle: We work with a few artists and designers to make exclusive products for us. For example, we have a Rare Device candle by PF Candle, a Divisadero lipstick by Elizabeth Street Cosmetics, a line of colognes and shave oil by L'Aromatica and—soon to come—a San Francisco Map print designed for us by Brainstorm.
Rockyt: Tell me a good story about being a shop owner.
Giselle: One day five years ago, Solange Knowles walks into the shop. I didn't recognize her at first, but I could tell something was up. She shopped and carefully picked the things that she was buying. When she was ready, one of her friends handed me her card, I saw her name and that's when I realized who she was. I was too tongue-tied and shy to say something by then, but I wish I had gotten a pic with her!
Rockyt: Do you have a shop pet?
Giselle: Yes! His name is Finnegan and he is Lauren's buddy.
Rockyt: Where do you hang out on your days off?
Giselle: With my two daughters and my husband. If it's a nice day out, we're usually walking around Land's End, Bernal Hill, or Fort Funston
Rockyt: Show some love for fellow small businesses. Not including your store, what are your three favorite shops in SF/the Bay Area?
Still haven't visited Rare Device? Make plans to shop both locations: 600 Divisadero and 4071 24th Street.