Noe Valley Voice April 2011

Store Trek

By Karen Topakian 


Store Trek is a regular Voice feature pro­filing new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce Russo Music, a music store owned by a brother-and-sister duo; and Two Birds, a clothing boutique fashioned by two friends.


Noe Valley residents Dominic and Nicole Russo own Russo Music, a combination music store, recording studio, and classroom.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

Russo Music
4072 24th St. at Castro


“What kid doesn’t need to have a box full of musical instruments?” asks Dominic Russo, co-owner of Russo Music, which opened mid-March in the 24th Street spot long-occupied by Twin Peaks Properties.

The “box” that Dominic recommends is Schoenhut’s Band in a Box, a set of toy instruments for kids 4 to 8 years old.

However, he and Nicole Russo, his sister and business partner, also offer the real thing in their newly remodeled music store at 4072 24th Street near Castro.

“We want to offer high-quality beginning-level instruments,” said Nicole, noting that the store even has someone who can repair them.

The lineup of band and orchestral instruments, available to rent or buy, includes guitars, electric bass, drums, clarinets, saxophones, ukuleles, trumpets, trombones, flutes, French horns, violins, and pianos from Sherman Clay. Rental fees are $25 to $35 a month.

“We’d like to have an instrument petting zoo on the weekends,” said Nicole. “Kids can come and try all the instruments for fun.”

Russo Music also sells sheet music and music accessories, such as tuners, guitar strings, neck straps, and practice pads.

Customers can peruse 200 to 300 pieces of sheet music and equal numbers of vocal selection and method books, priced from $5 to $30.

“Everything from Top 40 pop to guitar music, from Billy Joel to Queen—it’s a pretty large collection,” said Dominic.

In the back of the store are three soundproof studios and a multipurpose classroom—used for recording, practicing, teaching, or learning music.

“First and foremost, it’s about kids’ education,” said Dominic, known locally as Mr. Russo from his two years of teaching music at James Lick Middle School. The shop gives piano, vocal, and instrument lessons for all ages, he said.

Both Russos hold bachelors of music degrees from Crane School of Music in New York. (Nicole also has a master’s in music performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.) Dominic teaches voice, piano, and trumpet, while his sister specializes in clarinet and saxophone. Four other teachers round out the instructors list, offering voice, guitar, and violin.

The owners said their passion for music started in the family car while their mom drove them to school (back in their hometown of Star Lake, N.Y.). “She played Hooked on Classics tapes in the car at large volume,” said Nicole. “We listened to Vivaldi. We’d be in the back seat dancing.”

“She’d crank it up. It got us jazzed up for the day,” said Dominic.

Dominic and Nicole chose Noe Valley for their new business because they also live in the neighborhood, on Vicksburg Street. “We grew up in a small town, and this feels like home to us,” said Nicole.

Russo Music is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday.


Two Birds boutique, offering clothing and accessories, is a creation of Audrey Yang (left) and Susanna Taylor.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

Two Birds
1309 Castro St. at 24th


“We’re work girlfriends,” says Susanna Taylor, referring to her relationship with co-owner Audrey Yang. “People asked us when we were going to take it to the next level. We have.”

Together, the two friends opened Two Birds, a women’s clothing boutique at 1309 Castro St. in the former home of Cooks Boulevard.

Yang describes the store and its clothing as a “boutique that really reflects our wardrobe. Sometimes we want to be casual and wear T-shirts and jeans. Some days we want to go out and get dressed up.”

The two women met while working at the three Heidi Says boutiques on Fillmore Street. Taylor sold shoes and accessories while Yang managed the clothing stores.

“We’ve thought about doing this forever—independently, before we even met each other,” said Yang. “We both thought that we would have a boutique. We finally met each other. It was a perfect match.”

Less than three weeks after the partners opened their doors on Feb. 20, Two Birds had already seen signs of success.

“We’ve sold out of a few items,” said Taylor. “The most popular and interesting was a navy Joie top that had a cinched bow in the back,” selling for $188.

Yang added, “We’re almost sold out of the Nordin black slim leg trouser by Theory,” with a price tag of $235.

In late March, Two Birds still had plenty of other merchandise on the racks, including dresses, trousers, sweaters, handbags, scarves, and jeans.

“We have a ton of jeans. We’ve gotten an overwhelmingly good response to denim,” said Taylor. “We carry six different designers. The neighborhood’s favorite so far has been Hudson.” Hudson jeans start at $138.

“This neighborhood really likes Three Dots [a California designer],” said Taylor, pulling out one of her favorites, a navy boat-neck British tee that sells for $44. “They’re easy and indestructible.”

Taylor and Yang put four to six weeks of renovation time into Two Birds, painting, hanging mirrors, and installing three dressing rooms on the upper level, along with a couch and comfy lounge chairs.

They picked their location because they felt Noe Valley needed a boutique like theirs. According to Yang, many of her Heidi Says customers had been traveling from the neighborhood. She said one shopper told her, “You’re going to save me gas.”

Taylor admitted there was another reason for opening Two Birds in Noe Valley. “We followed the restaurants that we liked, too. La Boulange, Fresca, Patxi’sÉso we’ll eat well.”

Store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.