“My mom was a fanatic about music. My childhood home was filled with the sounds of everything from Motown to Crystal Gayle to disco. I just listened and took it all in like a sponge.”
So explains Lamont Bransford-Young (photo, center) of his love of all things music, as evidenced by his shelves teeming with LPs, cassettes and CDs he has made or collected over the years. Thankfully, that storied collection now has a new permanent home in a ground-floor Mission District commercial space of a MEDA Small Sites Program building.
But getting here was over two decades in the making.
Finding a home
When Lamont walked around the Mission for the first time way back in 1997, he felt immediately comfortable in this spirited place that was far different from his suburban Connecticut roots. Lamont saw what he desired in a community: There was energy, a vibrant Latino culture, kids kicking soccer balls and, most importantly, a diverse populace.
It was in the Mission that Lamont started to put his childhood vision in place — a vision that included a communal space where people could casually stop by, and where the average person could learn to DJ The high cost of commercial spaces led to only part of that dream coming true, with a home studio needing to be run out of the Mission apartment he shared with husband Christopher. This meant by-appointment-only trainings, limiting the accessibility Lamont sought for his space. Despite that challenge, a business, cleverly named Fingersnaps Media Arts, was built over 15 years, with hundreds of customers ranging from an energetic 5-year-old to a surprisingly tech-savvy octogenarian couple.
Lamont also currently volunteers as a DJ at community radio station 89.5 KPOO on Wednesdays from 12 midnight to 6 a.m., plus can be heard spinning at the Mission Community Market, Sunday Streets, and various community and private events.
The Mission resident first became acquainted with MEDA in spring 2018 when he wandered into one of the nonprofit’s affordable-housing workshops geared toward artists, as part of a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Explains Housing Opportunities Coach Azul Cortez (photo, right), “From the very beginning, Lamont was extremely engaged in learning more about housing options in San Francisco. During our one-on-one appointment, I learned he was also interested in small-business development.”
That’s when service integration at MEDA occurred, with Cortez connecting Lamont to Business Development and Lending Liaison Luis Ramos (photo, left). Ramos helped Lamont gain access to capital to expand his business, plus started looking for affordable commercial spaces in the neighborhood.
“I could see from the start that Lamont had enthusiasm for his work and what his venture brings to the Mission. His business model was sound — literally! — and his vision was unique. I knew a brick-and-mortar space would definitely help him grow his customer base,” says Ramos.
Next came in Asset Manager Beatriz Ordonez, who advised Lamont that if he could wait a bit, a MEDA-owned affordable commercial space would be available in early 2019. That Mission location was at 3527 20th St. at San Carlos, part of a 12-unit property MEDA had taken under its wing via the City’s Small Sites Program, which allows nonprofits to purchase four- to 25-unit buildings with tenants vulnerable to no-fault evictions. To date, MEDA’s Small Sites Program portfolio includes 22 such properties, comprising 154 residential apartments and 23 commercial spaces.
Lamont remained patient, and finally had hope for making his full vision a reality.
Quality, not just affordability
When MEDA buys Small Sites Program properties to preserve them as affordable housing, the additional goal is to create quality residential and commercial spaces.
Lamont’s future home would need some major rehabbing, as it was in a state of disrepair. The scope of work included a seismic retrofit, upgrades to electrical and plumbing, and the addition of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bathroom to meet mandatory code compliance.
Explains Assistant Construction Manager Sara Lope, who oversaw the project, “MEDA went a step further toward quality and had the full interior demolished and rebuilt, going from a dark, two-story unit into a light-filled, one-story space with an ultra-high ceiling. Since the storefront was in a serviceable but deteriorated state — with broken glass and plywood-covered windows — our team invested in replacing the glass and repainting the facade to ensure the future tenant’s business success.”
A vision is realized
This March 1, Lamont moved into his brand-new space. For weeks prior he had been packing up his beloved collections. There were times he had to literally sit in the corner, being emotionally overwhelmed by music with which he had not interacted for years. The boxes were later put four or five on a cart by Lamont and Christopher, the items painstakingly wheeled over the three blocks from their Folsom Street apartment.
In just seven weeks, business has definitely picked up.
“People walk in off the street and are inspired by the space. It’s like the United Nations in here. I have customers born in China or the Caribbean or Africa — all stopping by in one day. They may have come from other places, but they all moved to the Mission for the same reason, just like I did years ago. My idea was to create a vibe, and I feel blessed that has now happened in my new space,” states an impassioned Lamont.
Those customers can now be seen through the large windows of that space, with some a blank slate and following Lamont’s general set program and others with a more-customized training. These are always one-on-one classes. The main challenge for “students” is to listen and be able to deeply understand the music that they are playing. To know your audience. To set the mood based on that audience.
Neighbors and fellow business owners come by Fingersnaps Media Arts and are excited to have such a distinctive new venture in the Mission. On Saturdays, trainees spin curbside, getting their first taste of inspiring a crowd of passersby via the pulsating combination of great music and DJ skills, dreaming of how they will be able to use their newfound craft, whether as avocation or vocation.
Claims MEDA’s Cortez, “It’s been great to see Lamont reach his goals and access a storefront in the neighborhood of which he has been a part for so long. I know MEDA can continue to support the retention of artists who live and work in San Francisco, so they can also reach their dreams. “
Echoes a thoughtful Lamont, “Stay true to your dream. Believe in your vision.”