Noe Valley Voice September 2004

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular feature of the Noe Valley Voice profiling new stores and businesses in the neighborhood. This month we introduce a women's clothing store, a nail salon, a shoe store, and a shop selling tobacco products.

La Coterie Style Studio

3961A 24th Street between Noe and Sanchez streets

415-STYLE-911 or 415-789-5391

On July 16, Teresa Gay held an opening party for her new women's clothing boutique, La Coterie Style Studio. Located across the street from Bell Market, the shop takes over the space previously occupied by the children's clothing store Lit'l Lizards.

La Coterie's merchandise is a far cry from the former tenant's homegrown, comfy kids' wear. It's all about sophisticated fashion, much of it from Europe, and the slacks, blouses, jeans, and coats are probably not for those on a shoestring. For example, a pearl pink silk skirt by Chaiken is $260, a Tocca floral felicity dress is $258, and a black wool suit coat with lace trim by Paola Frani is $600.

"It's definitely high-end," says Gay, who worked for more than 12 years as a marketing and management consultant. Her clients included Visa, AOL, and the Gap, Inc. In the business world, the 37-year-old Gay had to dress the part, but she always tried to bring her own sense of style to her outfits. She hopes to do the same for her customers, whom she thinks will mainly be women like her: professionals in need of chic work and eveningwear.

"Noe Valley is the perfect location because there's nothing like La Coterie here," she explains. She herself lives on 26th Street and knows what it's like to have to tromp off to other shopping meccas, such as Hayes Valley or Union Street, to find clothes for the boardroom. "I get my fun clothes at Rabat or A Girl and Her Dog, but for business there isn't much selection."

Gay and her assistant manager, Colleen Abrie, feel the clothes and accessories the shop carries will most likely appeal to women in their mid-30s on up. To that end, they are hosting free workshops (advance signup is required) the second Thursday of each month, addressing issues relating to fashion such as personal style, auditing one's closet, and body image. Starting in September, they will also hold events on Monday nights--around the time Monday Night Football airs. "It's going to be something unique," Gay promises.

"I want La Coterie to convey a welcoming and approachable environment where women feel comfortable," she adds. "When people hear the name, I want them to think of an innovative, unique place to shop...and to develop their unique style." Coterie is the French word for clique or circle of friends.

As for the shop's décor, Gay is fortunate that her boyfriend, Nick Morisco, is also an architect. The walls are painted gray and highlighted by splashes of La Coterie's signature orange. Adding to the family affair, the copper-topped "cash wrap" was designed and built by Gay's father. A friend built the benches and tables.

Clothing brands include MaxMara, Louis Verdad, and Catherine Malandrino. The boutique is also the exclusive carrier of Paola Frani, whose clothing line Gay discovered while traveling in Paris. She knew immediately that she wanted to include the designer in her collection.

Additionally, La Coterie carries lingerie, scarves, purses, and jewelry by Claudia Kusson, Double Happiness, and Babylone. The baubles range in price from $70 to $350.

La Coterie Style Studio is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

--Olivia Boler

Noe Valley Nails

1484 Church Street near 27th Street


If the streets of Noe Valley are any indicator of economic health, it might be wise to dump the hog bellies and begin investing in nail parlor futures.

Kenny La is a true believer--he and partner Helen have just opened their fourth nail salon, and second one on Church Street, in the space recently vacated by the Willa gift shop. By any standard, business appears to be booming.

With newer, spa-style chairs and enough space for nine different stations, the atmosphere inside Noe Valley Nails is one of orderly hubbub. Women sit blissed out with their feet in buckets or on towels, little blue spacers between each toe; other women hold their hands in the air as newly applied acrylic polish dries.

A door in the rear slides open and two prone gleaming and polished calves appear. "That's the waxing room," Kenny La says, as the door to the private room closes. "We sell more manis, pedis, and waxes than anything else."

Manicures at Noe Valley Nails start at $6 (French manicures are $8), pedicures are $12, and the combination of a manicure and pedicure, $13 to $15. Eyebrow tints are $8.

Like cucumbers at Safeway, there appear to be few body parts that cannot be waxed: lips ($5), chins ($5), arms ($16 and up), legs (whole and half, $12/$23) are on the menu, as are bikini ($10) and Brazilian ($25) waxes. Foot and shoulder massages can also be arranged, for $8 to $23.

Why should a customer try Noe Valley Nails instead of one of the dozen other similar shops in the neighborhood?

"Because we have experienced girls," La says. "They have worked for me for five to ten years. They are professionals, not kids off the street. And we are very clean."

Don't think these traits are appreciated only by women.

"We get men too," La says. "They like buffing. They know they have to come in often, because if they wait till they get old, their feet won't look good anymore."

It has been 15 years since La, then working as a roofing contractor, opened Angel's Nails two blocks up Church Street. By 2004, his salon has become a Noe Valley fixture. He hopes Noe Valley Nails will soon be one, too.

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

--Doug Konecky

Shoe Biz, Inc.

3810 24th Street near Church Street


In Cover to Cover Booksellers' old location on 24th Street, the world of books has been replaced by the world of shoes--and some snazzy ones at that.

On June 19, after transforming the bookstore into a sleek, airy boutique with polished wood floors, comfy couches and chairs, steel ceiling lamps, and full-length mirrors, Nooshin Esmaili and her husband Mehran opened the doors to Shoe Biz, Inc.

The store carries men's, women's, and children's shoes, as well as bags, hats, socks, and hosiery, and is the couple's sixth San Francisco storefront. There are four other locations on Haight Street and one on Valencia Street.

The Esmailis, who live in Millbrae, opened their first Shoe Biz on Haight Street in 1979 and describe the styles they carry as "dressy comfort shoes," with an affordable price tag. Fall is the shop's strongest fashion season, especially in the realm of boots.

"We emphasize shoes you can wear to work but also go for a walk in," says Nooshin Esmaili, who admits she was not all that fashion-conscious when she and her husband opened their first store. "Shoes should be comfortable yet presentable."

With that in mind, Shoe Biz is stocked with a selection ranging from practical, leather lace-ups to funky, flower-festooned kitten heels to ultra-hip, casual sneakers. Esmaili travels to Europe and Asia several times a year, buying directly from factories in order to cut costs. Some recognizable names include Steve Madden, Ugg, and Marc Jacobs, a label that wins the prize for most expensive item in the store (fuchsia ankle boots: $500). Other brands are Taxto, Miz Mooz, Lacoste, and Tsubo.

Most men's shoes are in the $85 to $120 range; women's go for $39 to $345. One can find athletic shoes by old reliables such as Puma, Saucony, Vans, and New Balance, ranging in price from $44 for simple slip-ons to $110 for leather Converse sneakers.

Since Wavy Footprints closed down the street, there's been a dearth of children's footwear in the neighborhood, a detail the Esmailis have made an effort to remedy.

"It's something customers have asked for," Esmaili says, adding that she and her staff encourage patrons to tell them if they see a need for any particular product.

Brands included in the kids' collection are Stride Rite, Geox, and Joe's Garb, which run from $30 to $50, as well as sneakers by Adidas and Converse. There are even shoes for babies by Jack & Lily ($25).

"We've always wanted to have a shop in Noe Valley," Esmaili says with a smile. What she likes is the reputation Noe Valleyans have of being loyal, repeat customers who support locally owned businesses.

The Esmailis hired Annie O'Dorisio, a Noe Valley resident, to manage the 24th Street store.

Shoe Biz is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

--Olivia Boler

Norcal Smokes

1185A Church Street near 24th Street


At first glance, a smoke shop in Noe Valley makes about as much sense as a restaurant specializing in spotted owl tapas. Jeff Violan and his partner Abdul Farid, however, surveyed the neighborhood and saw only a good business opportunity.

"There are no smoke shops anywhere in Noe Valley," Violan says, "and we're a lot cleaner and the neighborhood is tons nicer than down in the Mission."

Norcal Smokes opened on Church Street on July 12, in the small space once occupied by Chatterbox Gift Gallery, just a few doors south of 24th Street. Violan, Farid, and Violan's wife Kathy sell cigarettes, lighters, pipes, inexpensive cigars, air fresheners, hideaway soda cans (a handy item for Noe Valley residents--stash your cigs inside and no one will know), bags of bulk tobacco, rolling papers, and other smoking paraphernalia.

But the mainstay of their business is Marlboro cigarettes. At $3.60 per pack, $10.50 for a three-pack, and $29.99 per carton, Norcal's prices are inexpensive and cheaper than at Walgreen's, the neighborhood's previous low-cost tobacco emporium.

Nonsmokers will be amazed to know there are 16 different types of Marlboros. Norcal's largest sellers by far are the old red regulars and yellow Lights (Lights have long surpassed regulars as Marlboro's bestseller nationally), but you can also buy Milds, 100s, Ultra Lights, Menthols, and Blend No. 27, and most of these come in different lengths and package styles. Old-school Camels (the nonfilters Bogie craved) are still popular, as well as American Spirit organic cigarettes. If rolling your own is an option, you can save a bunch of money--a full pound of Double Take tobacco costs less than $10. A few packets of Zig-Zag papers, dude, and you're on your way.

The more basic question is: How many people in Noe Valley actually smoke? More than you'd think. "There are lots of closet smokers," Violan says. "They come in here because we're convenient. They buy their carton and hurry home."

In case you were wondering, neither 29-year-old Violan nor his partner Farid smokes.

Jeff Violan is an I.T. (information technology) networker during the day and only comes to the shop at night (his mother-in-law Fely runs the shop when Jeff's not there), while partner Farid operates another smoke shop across the bay in Hayward. Jeff and Kathy live in South San Francisco, and for all you local boosters, Kathy Violan went to Sanchez Elementary and Everett Middle School.

Hours at Norcal Smokes are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

--Doug Konecky