Noe Valley Voice November 2004

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

HALLOWEEN IS NOW HISTORY. But it marks the beginning of the long holiday season in Noe Valley, which includes the Day of the Dead (also known as Election Day this year), Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. And then it's champagne and party hats for New Year's 2005.

The two Downtown Noe Valley merchants who take home this year's prize for the most spectacular Halloween store windows are Global Exchange and, right across the street, Eye Q Optometry. The display at Eye Q featured a vintage baby carriage surrounded by cobwebs, dolls' heads, and an array of old glass frames and lenses refracting the visions within. Very spooky.

But the shopper-stopper was at Global Exchange (24th between Noe and Castro). The window showed an elaborate and colorful display of talzeras, skeleton figures from Mexico, celebrating the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos (Nov. 2). But it also held photos of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens who have died in the war in Iraq, as well as personal Day of the Dead altars made by Global staff in honor of friends and family members.

"The altars were created by our present staff and by those who have worked here in the past [Global Exchange has been in Noe Valley since 1989]. Altogether, 14 people contributed to the display," says the store's manager, Shel Mae.

Mae says G.E. has been doing a Day of the Dead display for four out of the last five years. "When we didn't put up the display, many people came in to tell us how much they missed it, so it is now an annual tradition."

Hopefully, it's still up. Run don't walk.

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DECK THE POLES: By the end of November, Downtown Noe Valley will be festooned with some new holiday decorations provided by the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association.

"We have about 60 great big fun bows that we'll be putting on the trunks of the trees down 24th Street," says association prez Carol Yenne. The plan is for the decorations to go up on Thanksgiving weekend. "We'll be starting at Castro and putting ribbons on every tree trunk, until we use up all of the bows we've purchased."

Yenne says the group is still debating whether to put up the old red banners on the light poles as well.

I say: go for it. Of course, I don't have to put them up--or take them down. What do you think? If you have a strong opinion, call Yenne at Small Frys (648-3954). Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to seeing the window displays merchants come up with this December.

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FAIR PLAY: In a letter published in the Voice last month, 29th Streeter Mark O'Hara, a music producer who has lived in Noe Valley since 1990, asked why Noe Valley didn't have a street fair. "Every summer, I feel bad that every other neighborhood except ours hosts a street fair. I think it would be great to put one together and would be happy to help out," O'Hara wrote. That sounded pretty good to the activists in Friends of Noe Valley, who, according to group leader Debra Niemann, contacted O'Hara and invited him to a meeting. O'Hara accepted the invitation, and now Friends members are talking about organizing a Noe Valley street fair for next year. "We are looking at next fall," says Niemann optimistically.

By the way, Niemann says Friends is on a membership drive for 2005. She invites any of you who want to sign up to do so at the group's new web site, Friends

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LAUNDERLANDLESS is what Noe Valley became on Monday, Oct. 25, when the large wash-and-dry emporium on the corner of 24th and Church closed its doors and became history.

Launderland opened in 1975 when Fred and Milena Maionchi bought what was then a vacant lot and built a full-service laundromat. They were there every day for over 10 years with their miniature schnauzer, Diana. They retired, and the laundry has been operated by their son Dominic ever since.

Last May, the owners filed a building permit application with the Planning Department asking to extend the existing building northward into the parking lot and then split the retail space in half. Dominic Maionchi says his attempts over the summer to rent out the whole space to a single tenant didn't work out, so he is proceeding with the expansion plans. Construction should take about six months, and there will still be some parking in the back, but fewer stalls.

As for why Launderland has been hung out to dry, Maionchi says, "The business was barely breaking even at that location. It's steadily been declining in recent years, so that we were down 20 percent in sales. At the same time, utility expenses have been skyrocketing. We would have had to buy new equipment at a cost of around $300,000, so sadly, it was time to close."

Maionchi notes that a big load of Launderland's business was from people driving here from other neighborhoods. Also, many Noe Valley residents now have their own washers and dryers, he says. "In my opinion, the days of the large laundromat are over."

What will fill the new slots? Maionchi says he has been talking to a San Francisco financial institution and a fitness center, but nothing is certain at this point.

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REAL FOOD STILL REAL EMPTY: The storefront across from Bell Market that once housed a bustling organic grocery is still shuttered. But in the words of building co-owner Jane Allen, there is "light at the end of the tunnel."

To back up a bit: Jane Allen and husband Kimball sold their 24th Street business Real Food Company to Nutraceutical/Fresh Organics Inc. in March of 2000. They leased the Real Food name and premises to the Utah corporation for 15 years. The grocery tooled along for three years, but then suddenly closed on Labor Day of 2003, ostensibly for remodeling. At that point, some former employees accused Nutraceutical of closing the store to avoid having to unionize. Later, a dispute arose over who should pay for the cost of repairs to the Allens' building--the landlord or the tenant. So the renovations have been stalled for over a year.

Needless to say, Downtown Noe Valley has been real upset, and a group of citizens held a protest rally Sept. 4. Marchers convened at the vacant store carrying banners that read, "Real Food/Real Empty/ Real Mad!" Over a hundred people also signed pledges to boycott Nutraceutical, should Real Food reopen. Others sent postcards to the Allens telling them to kick the Nutra folks out and put in a locally-owned organic grocer.

Jane Allen says she has received about 150 notes of protest, but she is hard-pressed to understand how "all these people expect me to break the legal obligations of the parties to the lease agreement. They want me to immediately release Nutraceutical Corporation. However, Nutraceutical has not asked that it be released from its lease. So what am I supposed to do?"

Allen says she and Nutraceutical have settled their differences over who's going to pay for what, and that her contractors are in the final stages of preparing the plans for the structural repair work needed at the store. Those plans should be submitted "soon" for permit approval, she says. After City Hall gives its okay, the reconstruction can begin.

As for Nutraceutical's exact timeline, we'll just have to wait on that one.

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SHORT SHRIFTS: We'll also have to wait on the empty Mikeytom Market on the corner of Church and Day streets. Property owner Peter Kung says he has been contacted by several parties interested in renting the space, which years ago was a small Safeway.

"We have had a variety of proposals, from a nail salon to a karate school, a Japanese restaurant, and a daycare center," says Kung. But no one has signed on the dotted line.

The big rumor on Castro Street is that a kitchenware store will be opening in the site vacated by Paper Plus near Walgreen's. I heard this from several people, all of whom were excited about the news. However, no one knew who the new store owners were, nor the name of the store. If you're cooking up something, call and leave a message at 821-3324 (or e-mail my

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TOP OF THE POPS: The fastest-selling CD this holiday season, according to Streetlight Records on 24th Street, is Comets on Fire by the San Francisco-based hard rock group Blue Cathedral.

At the big three Noe Valley video stores--Video Wave, First Choice, and Noe Valley Video--the number-one movie rental this fall was Fahrenheit 9/11, which I'll bet 90 percent of registered voters in Noe Valley have now seen.

For you hardcore readers out there, Cover to Cover reports that its bestselling fiction these days is Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and in the non-fiction category, Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (about some fringe Mormons).

In other media: San Francisco Magazine, via David Binder Research, recently conducted a random poll of San Franciscans to ask, "If money didn't matter, which places would you pick for your home?" The results, published in the mag's November issue, put Noe Valley at the top of the list. We led Pacific Heights, Telegraph Hill, Sausalito, Hillsborough, St. Helena, Ross, and Piedmont. Amazing.

The sidebar story was headlined, "Battleground Noe: How to Buy into the Bay Area's Most Popular Neighborhood--The Tough Truth." And the tough truth, according to the article, can be summarized in one word: Overbid.

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ELEPHANTS IN NOE VALLEY: Local author Bill Yenne reports that he has had some very pleasant feedback as a result of his appearance on Channel 11 News on Sept. 23. KNBC wanted to find out what it was like to be a Republican voting for Bush in Noe Valley. The station scouted the area and came across the display in the window of Harry Aleo's Twin Peaks Properties, a Noe Valley establishment for 57 years. Aleo often fills the window with newspaper clippings, photos of Republican icons, and signs promoting his conservative views. He also refers to our liberal neighborhood as "Looney Valley."

When KNBC News asked to do a live shot of his window and interview him, Aleo declined to appear on camera. Instead, Bill Yenne happened by and was portrayed as "the lonely Republican" in a sea of Democrats.

Now Yenne says, "I no longer am lonely. As a result of the recent publicity, I've been contacted by several Noe Valley closet Republicans, and we may even start a Noe Valley Republican Club."

As for Aleo, he's glad the heat's off him. In the past, he's had to put up with a lot of malicious mischief, such as people painting, scratching, or spitting on his window. There's been a recent incident, too, which may or may not be related to Aleo's politics. Sometime on Saturday, Oct. 23, somebody entered the parking lot behind his office and cut down a banana tree, which Aleo's father had planted in 1960. "It's kind of amazing, because very recently it was actually producing bananas, after I'd nurtured it for so long," Aleo laments.

Maybe the neighborhood could pass the hat and replace the tree.

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PEACE, PEACE, PEACE: I know I say this every year, but this year especially, don't forget to celebrate Armistice Day.

It was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918, in a railroad dining car in France's Forest of Compiegne, that the Armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany, ending "the war that was to end all wars." In many hearts throughout the world, a moment of silence is still observed at 11 a.m. the morning of Nov. 11 to commemorate the event. In 1954, the U.S. Congress changed the name of the observance to Veterans Day, to include the Americans who have fought in all the wars that followed World War I.

Before we embark on our holidays, perhaps all of us in Noe Valley should pause for a moment at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, and remember the Armistice. Then we should dedicate our energies to a new one.

That's 30.