Noe Valley Voice October 2003

and now for the Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

WHERE'S THE BEETS? When Real Food, aka Fresh Organics, closed "for remodeling" just before Labor Day (see page 1), the news sent Noe Valley's healthy eaters into a spin, especially those of us who headed to Real Food's fantastic organic produce department on a daily basis. (Real Food's prices were higher than Bell's, but in this neighborhood people are willing to pay more for the real thing. Besides, the free samples of peach slices provided a nice afternoon snack.)

In response to the loss, local groceries and Mom-and-Pop stores are working hard to fill the neighborhood's bins with fresh organics of their own.

"We're trying to carry some organic vegetables and produce, because all our customers are going crazy since Real Food's closed," says Joanie Basso-Ginsberg, who with her husband Gino owns PastaGina, the gourmet deli on Diamond near 24th Street. "They're in shock and so upset. We have been cooking up a storm in the back kitchen here, but we've been putting the organic herbs and vegetables we don't use out front for our customers," says Joanie.

Gino adds that PastaGina has more than doubled its stock of fruits and vegetables and plans to further increase its orders during October.

Down 24th Street at Jim and Sons Produce, Jim Vlahakos reports that although his business has increased almost 20 percent since Real Food closed, there has not been a significant demand for organic produce. "I am putting more organic produce out, but people aren't asking for it. If they have requests, then I am happy to order it--my customers are my bosses!"

John Hilas, who operates the popular Church Street Produce at 30th Street, says his business has been up about 5 percent since Real Food closed. "I haven't seen a big rise in demand for organic fruits and vegetables," he says, "but we are expanding our variety of items at this time." Church Street Produce is well-known for its low prices.

Tower Market manager Tom Lim, who used to work at Bell Market in the 1980s, says Tower has been experiencing higher overall store sales, with a slight increase in the organic produce department.

Over in Downtown Bernal Heights, Good Life Grocery's general manager, Greg Pereira, reports a dramatic rise in produce sales, but he says the jump occurred over the past four months. "We expanded the produce department as part of our major remodel, which was completed, finally, four months ago, and it gave us 40 percent more store area."

Greg found it odd that Fresh Organics, Inc. (or its parent company, Nutraceutical Corporation), would close Read Food for a makeover. "It took us many, many months to complete our remodeling job, but we didn't want to close the store to our customers. We worked around the reconstruction, which was difficult, but everyone worked with us, and our regular customers tolerated the inconveniences. I think they were happy we stayed open." You bet they were.

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BELL PEPPERS PICKED: A lot of us fruit and vegetable shoppers have gone right across 24th Street to Bell Market. Apparently caught off guard by the Real Food closure, Bell's normal stock of produce was picked clean the first week in September. Bell responded by assigning more clerks to the produce department, increasing supplies and space devoted to organic produce, and even installing more scales. "We have had a significant increase in sales in our organic produce lines," says Bell spokesperson Terry O'Neil.

(In a non-related item: We all were sorry when longtime Bell manager and native Noe Valleon Enrico Fornesi was transferred last month to the Cathedral Hill Bell Market, on Post near Franklin. According to spokesperson O'Neil, the company routinely transfers managers from store to store and this move was just standard policy for the chain.)

Bell's main competition in filling the Real Food void turns out to be Safeway. According to Ron Quintana, the produce manager up in Diamond Heights (otherwise known as Mount Safeway), there has been "a big jump in demand for our organic produce" over the past month.

Ron, who has been at that Safeway for 23 years, couldn't be more specific, but noted, "Our orders have been high. We are making room on our displays for the organic fruits and vegetables and getting additional help to meet the demand. We have a lot of customers from Noe Valley who know that if they have any requests for things they can't find, just contact me or the store manager [in the mornings], so I can special-order the item for them, if available."

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IT WAS BACK TO THE FUTURE at Manhattan Bagels a little over a month ago when the sign over the 24th Street store was removed and replaced by one that said "Holey Bagels." Seven years ago, national bagel chain Manhattan bought out Holey Bagel. Gary Goldstein and Scott Kronenfeld opened the original Holey Bagel in Noe Valley in the mid-1970s, and eventually expanded to nine locations in San Francisco before selling to Manhattan.

Evidently, after Manhattan's parent company, New World Café, acquired Noah's Bagels, Manhattan became expendable. The 24th Street business was recently purchased by San Francisco-based International Pastry, who reclaimed the Holey Bagel name and retained the 24th Street staff.

Store manager Jack Olchin, who has been at the bagelry for 17 years (10 years with Holey Bagel), is very happy with the change. "We can once again focus on our neighborhood customers, and we were able to keep almost all of our staff intact," says Jack.

"They [New World] just got too big, and we weren't getting the kind of cooperation we needed at this store to better serve our customers. Now we are back to being run by a local company that will be responsive to the neighborhood."

The official Holey Bagel sign will be an exact replica of the original one, Jack says, and should be going up soon.

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JUST SAY YES: Our only independently owned and operated apothecary, RX Unlimited, on the corner of Castro and 22nd streets, has a new pharmacist and a broader focus. The two-year-old pharmacy specializes in HIV/AIDS treatments, and makes home deliveries to those in need.

In August, owner Paul Goldstein hired Maria Lopez-Andrzejek, who was a pediatric pharmacist at Children's Hospital in Oakland. Maria says she is expanding the drugstore's services to include pediatric and chronic disease care, "for things like cystic fibrosis, or if we got an outbreak of West Nile virus, for example."

Maria is glad for the opportunity to work in Noe Valley. "I live on Sanchez and 27th Street, so I can now walk to work--no more commute." She is also excited about the changes at RX Unlimited. "We are a 'compounding pharmacy,' so we are able to put together the proper doses that are required for children. We can charge prices that are competitive with Walgreen's and lower than the AWP [Average Wholesale Price]," says Maria, "and we offer free delivery in the nearby neighborhoods."

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MAYORAL ORATION: We sure hope you haven't missed the mayoral forum at Alvarado School on Oct. 1, 7 p.m. It's sponsored by the Friends of Noe Valley, East & West of Castro Club, Upper Noe Neighbors, and the Collingwood Hill Neighborhood Association. On stage will be mayoral contenders Angela Alioto, Tom Ammiano, Matt Gonzalez, Susan Leal, Gavin Newsom, and Tony Ribera.

I plan to ask the candidates how the Oct. 7 "special election" could impact San Francisco, and how each of them would deal with the worst-case scenario (you-know-who being elected to serve out Gray Davis's term).

Meanwhile, Upper Noe Neighbors is sponsoring a debate between two of the candidates, Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez, on Oct. 23 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Upper Noe Rec Center on Day Street. UNN president Tom Mogensen invites you to attend what promises to be a lively show, without the cloud of an impending "special election." (What I can't figure out is why the bleeping "special election" couldn't have been held at the same time as the general election, Nov. 4.)

Noe Valleon Sue Green is spreading the word about a group called ActForChange and its campaign: "Darrell Issa, You Bought the Recall, Now Pay for the Special Election!" The group wants to send the budget-strapped State of California's special election bill of $50 to $60 million to San Diego's congressional representative Darrell Issa. He's the guy who wrote $2 million in personal checks to get the signatures to put the recall on the ballot. If you want to join up or check it out, turn to on your computer dial.

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FRIENDS OF NOE VALLEY elected new officers at its Sept. 11 meeting. The newly elected president is former vice president of the group, Marybeth Wallace. Board member Debra Niemann has taken Marybeth's place as v.p. Incumbent Sharon Castelanos stays on as secretary, and 15-year Noe Valley resident Jan Wyrick is now treasurer.

Although Jeannene Przyblyski is stepping down from the presidency, she is still the Friends' newsletter editor. (You can reach her at

Jeannene asked that I remind you that the Community Design Workshop for the renovation of the Noe Valley-Sally Brunn Library is Saturday, Oct. 4, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be children's activities during the morning session, courtesy of the library. Lunch will be served potluck by Friends of Noe Valley, so bring your favorite dish to share with your biblio-comrades. Remember, this workshop is the BIG planning meeting and the best opportunity to trot out your brilliant ideas on the future of our landmark library on Jersey Street. It's also a great opportunity to meet your neighbors.

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THERE'S NOE NEWS LIKE NO NEWS: Yes, there is no news about when exactly the parking lot at Dan's Gas will be finished. But the kiosk is up, and it looks like the stripes are not far behind. Still, there are no comments about who is going to run the lot or at what prices.

There is no official word about the Star Bakery site on Church, although rumors have cropped up that it will be a "women's health studio," part of a nationwide chain of franchises. No calls have been returned from the real estate agent. There have been no takers for the Mikeytom space, says BPM real estate agent Steve Brown.

The project manager for the just-approved supermarket/library/housing complex in Downtown Glen Park, David Prowler, says there will not be much news for the next year and a half. So visions of a big new Bi-Rite supermarket are premature. Think summer or fall of 2005.

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TOP OF THE POPS at Streetlight Records, according to store spokesperson Art Casares, is the new double album from Atlanta hip-hop group Outkast, Speaker Boxxx/The Love Below.

At the top of the list of most-requested movies at local video stores is the Christopher Guest spoof A Mighty Wind. Alexander Gardener at Video Wave says he is also getting demands for Michael Moore's Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine. Alexander's personal recommendation is a film called Russian Ark, which he found "an amazing feat in filmmaking, because it is one continuous shot." The film was shot and spoken in Russian, so be ready for subtitles.

Over at First Choice Video, counterman Jim Leal also points to A Mighty Wind, and recommends Raising Victor Vargas. Noe Valley Video on 24th Street is getting a lot of requests for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Hmm, doesn't sound like a kids' movie...

And for those of you who need to read, Mark Ezarik, of Cover to Cover bookstore, is happy to report that the "out the door" title these days is Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Mark also recommends Neal Stephenson's new novel, Quicksilver.

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BEFORE I GO, congrats to a Noe Valley favorite son, Bob St. Clair. A Poly High graduate, Bob crossed the street to Kezar Stadium and became a star player for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s. His name still appears above the store he used to operate at the corner of Sanchez and 24th Street: St. Clair's Liquors. In August, Rec and Park named the field at the "new" Kezar Stadium after Bob.

That's all, you all. Make sure you vote on Oct. 7, have a happy Columbus Day, and I'll see you at the Halloween parade, only I won't know it. Ciao for now. h