Noe Valley Voice December-January 2004

Store Trek

By Olivia Boler

Store Trek is a regular Noe Valley Voice feature profiling new shops and businesses in and around the neighborhood. This month we introduce two retail additions to "Downtown Noe Valley"--a fashion boutique and a gourmet cookware store. In addition, there's a new nail salon at the corner of Dolores and 30th streets.

Apple Blossom

1303 Castro Street at 24th Street


On Nov. 19, Apple Blossom, a women's clothing boutique, opened its doors in the space on Castro Street formerly occupied by Beyond the Sea. The shop carries cutting-edge clothing, from funky workout gear to frilly eveningwear, along with accessories like purses and jewelry.

Owner Jin Kwon describes her sartorial philosophy: "Clothes have to make a statement, especially for women." The clothes in her shop reflect her own personality, she says--her tough side, her lazy side, and her girly side. "What's in here is what I want to wear."

The 30-year-old entrepreneur graduated from San Francisco's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in 1995, and worked as a designer for a Los Angeles company, Hazel, for five years. In fact, Apple Blossom carries a few items from her old employer, including a beaded cardigan and camisole ($97) and a caplet ($63), a sort of short, shoulder-warming poncho.

Other items include Plastic jeans ($74), a Beth Bowley checkered coat with leather belt ($459), a Mac & Jac shantung skirt with opalescent beadwork ($85), and faux-layered tops by Freedom ($43). Costume jewelry brooches run $20 to $40, purses are in the $69 range, and there are a variety of wooly scarves, some for as little as $25.

Kwon describes her shoppers as women in their 20s to early 40s. "It's a place where mothers and daughters can both find something they like."

Having searched other neighborhoods like the Fillmore for a store location, Kwon credits good timing and some fortuitous connections in scoring the space. In October, she happened to be eating at Hahn's Hibachi--she's a cousin of the family that owns the restaurant chain--and noticed the vacated storefront. In fact, the previous tenants had just finished moving out that day. "There wasn't even a 'For Lease' sign up yet," she says. At the same time, she ran into a former FIDM classmate who worked at the nail salon in the adjacent space, and it just so happened the classmate's family owned the building.

Kwon gave herself a month to open in time for the holidays. She painted the walls a "green tea ice cream" green with chocolate and vanilla accents, basing the scheme on, what else, her favorite ice cream flavors. She got the idea to name the store Apple Blossom after seeing the name in a cocktail recipe book.

Apple Blossom is open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Monday from 1 to 7 p.m.

Cooks Boulevard

1309 Castro Street at 24th Street


Noe Valleyans will have a spacious new outlet for gourmet food and cookware, now that Cooks Boulevard has opened in the former Paper Plus storefront on Castro near 24th Street. Owner Malcolm Haar says the shop's focus is on providing a broad selection of kitchenware and specialty food items.

"Noe Valley is 'foodie' central," says Haar, who unveiled Cooks Boulevard in late November. He points to Stonehouse Olive Oil, the 24th Street Cheese Shop, as well as the neighborhood's two wine stores and Noe Valley Bakery. "People who live here like to cook for themselves, or else they like to give cooking gifts. Some just like to try our fun food items."

Those fun food items include DaVero olive oils and vinegars from Sonoma ($20), colorful India Tree Baking sugars ($5), Scharfenberger chocolate assortments ($8.50), and a variety of Brent's chocolate wine sauces ($18). There are also dips and conserves by Bella Cucina ($6). Perhaps the most fun item is a set of food coloring pens ($9.95) kids can use to decorate anything edible, from cookies to bagels.

Non-food products range in price from $2 (wooden mixing spoons) to $370 (a KitchenAid mixer). Haar carries top-of-the-line cooking and bake ware, including All-Clad pots and pans (a nonstick "grande" griddle is $99.99), Bauer mixing bowls, several Emile Henry ceramic baking dishes (a lasagna pan runs $44), and Staub cast-iron dutch ovens ($150 for a medium size).

First-rate kitchen knives by Wüstof and Henckels are on display for purchase, and there's also an assortment of "classic" cookbooks, such as The Joy of Cooking. Haar makes sure his prices are comparable to stores such as Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma. "A lot of people in Noe Valley walk," he says. "By shopping here, they can save time as well as money in the parking fees they'd have to pay by going downtown."

"I did a lot of research into what products are the best," Haar says, citing cooking magazines like Cooks Illustrated. As of now, the store is about 80 percent stocked because Haar, who was a software programmer in his former life, wants to leave space open for his customers' favorite items.

After the holidays, Haar plans to focus on converting the downstairs space in the shop so he can hold cooking classes. He doesn't have a kitchen installed yet, but he says there are lots of things such as knife skills, salad-making, and cheese and wine pairings that can be taught in the meantime. He'd also like to offer classes geared toward children.

On the surface, the space seems transformed from the casual clutter of Paper Plus, but Haar, who lives in the Castro, says he didn't change any of the fixtures. He did lay down gray vinyl tile flooring and painted the walls in a warm white, but the hanging ceiling lamps were already in place, as was the upstairs railing. The eclectic collection of cabinets and tables that display his wares are from his personal collection.

Cooks Boulevard is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Gift cards and a gift registry are available.

Sunrise Nails

1699 Dolores Street at 30th Street


Although you can't seem to walk down the street these days without passing a nail salon, these highly successful businesses are in hot demand, especially in all corners --even the farthest ones--of Noe Valley.

On Oct. 8, Sunrise Nails opened on the corner of Dolores and 30th streets in a prime spot that was once occupied by a law office.

"It took a lot of paint," says owner Shirley Wong, to transform the office space into a luxurious salon. She softened the floor with a dark green carpet and painted the walls white, accenting them with mirrors and faux-marble paneling.

Along one wall are five spa thrones fit for a queen (or king)--large, plush black chairs with built-in footbath tubs. The tubs are connected to the plumbing, so there's no need for the pedicurists to haul water in from another room. After the bath fills up, there's a device that stirs the warm water, creating waves. "It's like being at the beach," says Wong with a smile.

A spa pedicure costs $15; when combined with a manicure, it's $20. Wong says she is importing some special Chinese herbs from Hong Kong that can be added to the footbath to help with relaxation and easing pain. The chairs also give back massages: customers use a control box with options such as rolling, kneading, compression, and the ever-enticing percussion.

There are also five manicurist stations in the room, each outfitted with a scaled-down version of the spa chairs. A basic manicure is $6, and you can choose from 150 nail colors by OPI and China Glaze. Wong emphasizes that the manicurists want the customers to have a relaxing experience, and that every manicure includes a hand massage.

"We don't rush. We want to let people enjoy themselves here," says Wong, a Sunset District resident and mother of two. Before opening the salon, she helped her husband, Haida Ma, with his silver jewelry-making business. He sells his crafts at Fisherman's Wharf. Wong decided to open her salon on Dolores Street because the high commuter traffic affords visibility and she likes the area.

Sunrise also offers hot paraffin wax treatments ($2) for feet or hands, French manicures ($8), and acrylic nail treatments ($22). Two rooms in the back of the salon are reserved for waxing--anything from eyebrows ($7) to upper legs ($13) to bikini lines, Brazilian-style ($20).

Wong says new customers will receive $2 off their first manicure or pedicure treatment, or a free paraffin treatment. The shop also offers a 10-visit package in which customers get a 20 percent discount and one free treatment.

Sunrise Nails is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.