Noe Valley Voice November 2000

Signs at Urban Cellars Make You Think (or Giggle)

By Heidi Anderson

If the ever-changing storefronts and ever-present delivery trucks on 24th Street look like signs of the times to you, you might take notice of a different sign there, too. One that encourages intrepid shoppers to slow down, look at things from both sides, and maybe laugh a little.

The two-sided sign outside Urban Cellars, a liquor store at 3821 24th St. (near Church), doesn't beckon shoppers to come in for 10 percent off the Nouveau Beaujolais or to try a new brand of microbrew. It announces things like:

(Side 1) Here's to the Land We Love

(Side 2) And to the Love We Land


(Side 1) May All Your Pain Be Sham-Pain

(Side 2) May All Your Champagne Be Real

When manager Walid Masoud took over Urban Cellars in January 1998, he wanted to do something fun with his "podium" outside his store.

"I always try to take advantage of what's given me," Masoud says, "and I see this sign as just that. I wanted to put heartfelt sayings on that marquee."

To launch this new venture, Masoud's first sign read, "What Is Life? $5 off Purchase for Best Answer."

Intrigued, customers trickled in with various replies. By Feb. 14, he had the best one up:

(Side 1) What Is Life?

(Side 2) Life Is Love.

Masoud's signs have been interesting, intriguing, thoughtful, and occasionally confusing ever since. The one posted in early October, for instance, read:

(Side 1) If Your Partner Is Driving
You to Drink,

(Side 2) Park Here.

Apparently, some drivers thought Masoud was beginning a valet service for customers.

Masoud laughs, "Sometimes they don't read the first side first!" (The "first" side is the west side, facing toward Vicksburg Street.)

But most of the time, customers do get it. Masoud notes that, more and more, customers are his best suppliers of witticisms and toasts.

"Mark," a resident nearby who works for, supplies some doozies. Masoud's favorite from Mark is:

(Side 1) 24 Hours in a Day,
24 Beers in a Case.

(Side 2) Coincidence?

And another from Mark:

(Side 1) What Is Recursion?
See Other Side.

(Side 2) What Is Recursion?
See Other Side.

Masoud says computer types fell over laughing at that one.

Except for New Year's Eve and possibly Halloween, Masoud avoids holiday-themed signs. "Holidays are tough. The sayings get too religious. Or worse, they get too idealistic."

Still, 40 percent of the store's business comes during the last three months of the year. To keep things interesting -- and maybe bring in a stray customer during the off-season -- Masoud keeps the clever words flying all year long.

Masoud isn't afraid to be a bit fatalistic sometimes:

(Side 1) The Light at the End of the Tunnel

(Side 2) Could Be a Train.


(Side 1) I'm Not Afraid of Dying.

(Side 2) I Just Don't Want to
Be There When It Happens.
(Apologies to Woody Allen)

That one, Masoud thinks, might go up for Halloween this year.

Customers who come in with pithy slogans often jot them down for Masoud. They tell him they get the quotes from friends, books, even the Internet. Masoud himself has logged on to and typed in "wine" and "sayings" or "toasts" and found old favorites like, "Here's champagne to our real friends. And real pain to our sham friends." (Author unknown.)

He keeps a basket full of phrases, scribbled on business cards or scrawled on post-it notes, at the counter. People are encouraged to go through them and tell him what tickles their fancy. The ones earning the most giggles or "awws" usually make it up to the marquee.

"Bob," a man who routinely cleans Urban Cellars' windows and climbs a ladder to post Masoud's latest wisecrack, puts up all the letters. The sign is changed every two to three weeks.

Masoud prefers the one-liners (well, two-liners) to announcing discounts on beer or wine. In fact, he rarely, if ever, holds big sales promotions at his shop. Instead, he offers the Urban Cellars Club as a way for regular customers to earn volume discounts.

Even so, Masoud admits he can't compete with the megastores such as Costco or Beverages & More. But because he is small and neighborhood based, he can provide a personal touch.

Like the feeling you get as you stride past the Ark and look up and read:

(Side 1) May your coffin be made from a 100-year-old tree

(Side 2) That I will plant tomorrow.