This story has been generating lots of buzz around town and on conservative media organs across the nation: High Bridge Arms at 3185 Mission Street in Bernal Heights, San Francisco’s last remaining gun shop, plans to close by the end of October.
High Bridge has been a fixture in Bernal since the 1950s, when it was opened by Bob Chow, a Chinese-American who had represented the US shooting team in the 1948 London Olympics. Chow died in 2003, but the store carried on under owner Andy Takahashi and manager Steven Alcairo until a Sept. 11 Facebook post announced that closure was imminent:
Dear friends and family, it’s with tremendous sadness and regret that I have to announce we are closing our shop. For many reasons I cannot get into at this moment, it appears our final days will be through to the end of October of 2015. We will clearance out what ever inventory we have in the shop and offer sale prices for anything you would like us to order. This is not a joke. For any of you Vultures, (you know who you are) please don’t bother us. For if you do, I give you my solemn promise that we will make it a very unpleasant experience for you. For all our true friends and followers, I would like to sincerely thank you for all your support, likes, positive feedback and best of all, your friendship. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon. It has been a long and difficult ride, but a great pleasure to be you’re last San Francisco Gun shop. Our warm regards, High Bridge Arms.
If this sounds like ripe fodder for Fox News, well, rest assured, they’re on it.
Ever since it was opened in the 1950s by a celebrated Olympic shooter, High Bridge Arms has been a defiant fixture in San Francisco’s Mission District, (sic) but a coming wave of new firearms restrictions has prompted the last gun shop in the liberal City by the Bay to pack it in.
The proposed new city regulations, which could only be aimed at High Bridge Arms, would have required the shop to take and preserve video of all transactions and turn customers’ personal data over to police on a weekly basis. General Manager Steven Alcairo said the shop’s owners finally threw in the towel after years of what they consider being unfairly targeted with burdensome rules and regulations. Past regulations have required the shop to bar ads and displays from its windows and install cameras and barriers around its exterior. The shop has 17 cameras as it is, and turns video over to police on request, he said.
“This time, it’s the idea of filming our customers taking delivery of items after they already completed waiting periods,” Alcairo said. “We feel this is a tactic designed to discourage customers from coming to us.
To be sure, a great many Bernalese will be glad to hear High Bridge Arms is closing. That’s understandable; the gun shop has long been an incongruous part of our local landscape, and gun violence is a disease that plagues our city and our nation.
That said, the store was popular among law enforcement officers, and I don’t recall hearing any stories that involved bad guys using guns that came from High Bridge. Awkward though it was, that incredible, faded GUNS sign out front provided a link to a lost time in San Francisco, and here in Bernal Heights. Here’s Bob Chow’s biography from the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California:
Bob Chow […] was born in 1911, in the U.S. to Chinese immigrant parents and passed away in 2003. He was a pioneer ham radio operator in his youth. He joined the Navy Reserve in the early 1930s. He became a noncommissioned officer, a rarity then for an Asian American.
Bob established 37 world pistol records, and in 1948 qualified for a place on the U.S. Olympic Team and competed in London. He was the first Chinese American to compete in pistol shooting in an Olympic game. Bob was the only U.S. rapid-fire shooter to score 60 hits in the match and placed 13th overall. After returning from the Olympics Bob coached young American shooters and raised the standard of American gunnery to competitive internationally.
During his stint as a movie extra he taught John Wayne, Roy Rogers and others how to increase their accuracy in pistol firing. Bob was an all around sportsman and loved motorcycles. Bob played saxophone and banjo with American jazz groups during the Prohibition days following World War II. Eventually he and his wife Bobbie settled in San Francisco where he owned and operated a gun shop.
High Bridge was a juxtaposed holdover from the midcentury, working-class Bernal Heights that was here before almost all of us — before the Summer of Love, before Santana in the park, before the SLA, the Esmeralda Slides, BHNC, the Good Life, the coffee shops, the Subarus, the Priuses, and plenty of other events and symbols that reflect the sensibility Bernal Heights is known for today. High Bridge was an icon of diversity of a different sort, and even if you never liked it, or only barely tolerated it, it always provided a tangible reminder of different ways of looking at the world, and our own neighborhood.
PHOTO: High Bridge Arms sign, by Telstar Logistics