Banana Republic

Sun Lee

I had moved here from Hawaii, fresh out of high school just a couple months prior, and was working at the original Banana Republic store on Grant Avenue (this was when they were still true to their roots and their clothing catered to the safari adventurer/international photojournalist/exotic traveler demographic). Even the interior of the store had a jungle theme decor and there was a giraffe whose feet rested on the subterranean level (the women’s dept), but was tall enough that you could see his neck and head emerge through the stairwell opening on the main street level (men’s dept).

My shift was due to start in a few minutes. I dashed downstairs to the employees-only bathroom located near the stockroom, passing the breakroom on my way. I was washing my hands when the ground started to shake and I reached out and held onto the walls and heard something metal fall to the concrete floor just outside the bathroom. It did not immediately occur to me that it was an earthquake; I had never experienced an earthquake in Hawaii. I thought perhaps a heavy truck had passed through overhead on Grant Avenue was the cause of the shaking.

When the shaking stopped, I headed out to the sales floor and saw that the breakroom, which had been full when I first passed it, was now empty. I walked out on to the women’s dept. and noticed that it was completely deserted. I looked around in bewilderment and a gal who did our window displays came running down the stairs and told me that “Sun, that was an earthquake and you need to get your ass upstairs and out on to the street in case this building collapses!”

My older sister, Yvonne, was visiting from Hawaii (and was staying with me), found me on Grant Ave. staring up at the nearby buildings. Turns out she walking up the stairs exiting the Montgomery BART station when the earthquake struck and she was pretty freaked out. She wanted to get on to the first flight back to HI. We met up with my then-roommate, Karen, who worked at the GAP around the corner from Banana Republic. The three of us walked back to our studio apartment at 8th & Market. Strangely enough, our apartment showed no signs of any earthquake damage — not a thing anything knocked over… just nothing. However, a neighbor of ours down the hallway reported that their apartment had a crack in the wall that had not been there before and they had stuff that was knocked over.

We lost power, but we had a battery-powered radio and that’s how we heard the news that there were fires in the Marina, that a lot of apartment buildings in the Marina had collapsed. We heard about the partial collapse of the Bay Bridge. We heard sirens all through the night. Some friends stopped by with flashlights and we piled into their car looking for some place with electricity, so we could eat. It was eerie to see large swaths of the city during a blackout. I remember the rest of that night as being of in a kind of a daze.

My family in Hawaii was frantic to try to get a hold of us to see if Yvonne and I were OK; they said later that news reports made it sound like that the city of San Francisco had either sunk into the Bay or had gone up in flames. I do remember feeling fortunate that my sister, roommate, and I were unharmed, and I also clearly remember begging my sister to wait out the rest of her visit as planned, instead of cutting her stay short and flying back to Hawaii.