Noe Valley Voice May 2005

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

PARKING ON THE BIAS: The Board of Supervisors took two minutes to approve a one-line resolution on April 26 that capped almost a decade of efforts by the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association to install diagonal parking on Castro Street south of 24th Street. The resolution reads: "Establish diagonal (45-degree angle) parking [on] Castro Street, each side, between 25th and Jersey streets (six-month trial)."

Celebrating last month were former Association President Bob Roddick, current President Carol Yenne, and merchants Isa Muhawieh and Lisa Violetto (of Isa's Salon and Lisa Violetto Designs), who spearheaded the final push to get the proposal past the naysayers. The goal of the group is to see how angled parking goes on that block and then try to expand it to a couple more blocks on Castro Street.

"It's been nine years since we started this effort," says Roddick, an attorney whose office is located in the 1300 block of Castro. "I had just been elected to my first term as president of the Merchants and Professionals, and Gavin Newsom had just been appointed to the Board of Supervisors by the mayor. We presented them with a petition for diagonal parking signed by over 1,200 neighbors--and Muni has fought us the whole way. Since then, we've produced two studies showing that diagonal parking is safe, and Isa produced a real-time video demonstration taken in the early morning hours on Castro that showed that diagonal parking in no way impeded Muni."

The net result, according to Roddick, will be a parking reconfiguration that will almost double the number of street parking spaces on Castro between Jersey and 25th. (Read more about the deal in the March 2005 issue of the Voice, available online at

So when will the six-month trial start? Says a hopeful Isa Muhawieh, "I estimate that it will finally be started in four to six weeks." That means look for stripes in June. And don't worry, the spaces won't have meters--during the trial at least.

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THAT'S OIL THERE IS: At April's end, 24th Street pedestrians were surprised to read a sign posted in the window of Stonehouse California Olive Oil, on the corner of 24th and Sanchez. It announced that the store would be closing May 1 and that a new shop called Belgano would be moving in and selling Ciao Bella Gelato and other exotic edibles.

Stonehouse chief Trish Baldwin explains that the olive oil sales "just weren't there"--they weren't enough to sustain the store in Noe Valley.

"We needed to have more product lines in the store," she says, "so Randy Jensen, who was the founder of the Sweet Inspirations dessert cafés, is taking over our lease. He'll be starting up a new kind of café, which will feature Ciao Bella, Leonidas Chocolates, and Illy Coffee, which is served by many high-end restaurants. Randy has agreed to continue carrying our Stonehouse Olive Oil in bulk and several of our other olive oils in non-refillable bottles. We are closing one year after we opened," Baldwin adds philosophically, "and finally, after one year of looking, I have found a place to live in Noe Valley [when we wrote about the opening last year, Trish was looking forward to moving to Noe Valley and walking to work], which I am very happy about. The new store will still carry our olive oils, so our loyal local customers won't have to travel down to our retail store in the Ferry Building."

Ah, there's nothing like a win-win situation.

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A WIN-WHIMPER SITUATION: Shoppers also were concerned about the "Goodbye Girl, Goodbye Dog" sign on the window of the five-year-old A Girl and Her Dog (owned by Annette Hickey and her Yorkshire terrier Bronte) across the street. The store packed up what remained of its clothing and dog biscuits and vacated the spot at the end of April.

But the storefront won't be empty for long. The space will be filled in about a month by the aforementioned Lisa Violetto and her business partner Judy Frangquist, who currently have a shop on Castro near Jersey (across from where the diagonal parking will soon appear).

"We are moving our retail store down [to 3932 24th Street] and will still maintain our space up here on Castro Street," says Frangquist, "where we will continue to do our designing and making our products."

Lisa Violetto Designs specializes in jewelry, handbags, scarves, pillows, and curtains, most of it handmade.

Frangquist says that she and Violetto are both very excited about the new space and will have access to the store during May. They hope to unveil the new shop around June 1.

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ANOTHER DOUBLE VICTORY: The owner of Launderland, Dominic Maionchi, recently closed the suds shop and remodeled the building into two spaces. The new tenants say something about the demographics of our urban village: Muscles and Money.

The corner slot is claimed by Sterling Bank, and the inner track belongs to 24 Hour Fitness. The new mini-fitness center, Fit Lite, opens on May 2 and will offer a circuit-training program on 30 different pulling and stretching machines.

There was a bit of a stir amongst the locals last month when the 24 Hour Fitness sign went up on the corner, then was abruptly removed. Evidently, 24 Hour made a mistake and the corner sign will be split between the bank and the exercise emporium. The sign went up at the end of the month again, and you can see Fit Lite now occupies the lower half of the sign.

Sterling Bank is not scheduled to open its doors until July 1, according to the bank's general manager, Steve Adams, who is headquartered here in San Francisco. This will be the locally owned bank's 10th branch in the Bay Area.

"The job should be completed on time," says Adams. "We're going to a hearing without any opposition, and getting our conditional use permit was, thankfully, very easy. Now all we have to do is put some windows along the Church Street wall, complete the interior, and install the safe deposit boxes, which all of our customers want."

Adams came to San Francisco from Michigan in 1994, on an assignment to open a bank in San Francisco for a private group. He wound up staying and now lives in the Upper Market neighborhood. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro Association, and thinks it's important to support the local merchants and neighborhood associations. "I go to Noe Valley on a day-to-day basis, so I'm happy we're opening a branch in Noe Valley and can get involved in the neighborhood," Adams says.

One of the first things Sterling Bank did was join the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. Not only did the bank pay its dues in advance, but it volunteered to be a sponsor for the Noe Valley Harvest Festival next October.

Adams will headquarter his residential lending department here in Noe Valley and plans to spend a lot of time chatting with the bank's new customers. "I got into banking by accident, and along the way I read the biography of A. P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America. I learned that he never worked at the main office of his bank, but rather always at a branch so he would know what customers were thinking."

He says Sterling Bank supports the hiring local people, and 90 percent of his employees at seven San Francisco branches live in the city.

"Also, there is one thing I feel very strongly about--I want clean sidewalks!" he laughs. Works for me, too.

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GOOD FOOD IN THE 'HOOD: America's largest grocery chain has been looking at its small store in Downtown Noe Valley very intently since the store makes more money per square foot than most of the other Ralphs/Cala/Bell supermarkets owned by Kroger Corporation, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Over the past 18 months, Bell Market on 24th Street has changed and improved its product lines and produce, with a big push coming since the first of the year and a major facelift at the end of March.

Bell also accepted the invitation of the Friends of Noe Valley to appear at the Friends' April 14 general membership meeting. There were less than 40 of us who took the opportunity to hear Bell ring its bell, that is, listen to a presentation by Ralphs' West Coast director of marketing, Chris O'Leary.

O'Leary described the changes the store has made in response to the neighborhood's wishes, and showed a graphic display of who we are, what we want, and what they have done. The bottom line on that, as any regular Bell shopper knows, is that they are now stocking not only the items they want us to buy, but also the items we want to buy.

At the meeting, Ralphs sent in sample trays of new items from their deli, bakery, produce, and wine cellars. You really should have come--there was enough food for all of you.

If you have any suggestions for Bell, write them down and give your list to the store manager. They say they will consider all reasonable requests and emphasize that they've returned to their primary directive: The customer is always right.

Ironically, across the street from Bell, at the empty Real Food space, it seems as if the customer is always wrong. There's no evidence of any remodeling, by either the building owner or the lessee, Nutraceutical Corporation.

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SHORT SHRIFTS: Rumors that Trends' old space at Church and Clipper has been rented are not true, according to a representative of the Britton real estate company by the name of John ("no last name"). John says he's had many inquiries "from retail stores, gyms, childcare centers, and cafes, but it is not rented out yet."

Last month, the Chronicle reported that San Francisco Giants slugger Moises Alou had bought a house in Noe Valley and was moving his family here, so don't be surprised if you see him in the 'hood. You'll know it's him by his unique batting stance.

Radio Shack's 24th Street manager, Lang Wu, says that the remodel of the store has been completed. It took two months of work, and now they're going through a restocking process. "This is the nationwide new look of Radio Shack," says Wu. "It has a layout that is more customer-friendly, and it's much easier to test products."

Those of you who were looking for Latvian President Vaira Vike's motorcade to roll through Noe Valley on the way to the Latvian Church on April 9 were disappointed. She had to attend Pope John Paul II's funeral ceremonies. We will let you know when she reschedules.

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IF YOU FOLLOW THE HORSES that follow the horses, then you'll be happy to know that Harry Aleo's racehorse, Lost in the Fog, won the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct in New York on April 9, and paid $2.30 on a two-dollar bet. The horse earned $90,000 for the victory and has earned over $360,000 by winning each of his first five races. Aleo, who owns Twin Peaks Properties on 24th Street, is tickled pink, but not so irrationally exuberant as to run his 3-year-old colt in the Kentucky Derby. (See last month's Rumors.)

Lost in the Fog is now scheduled to compete in the Golden Bear Breeders' Cup at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday, May 14. This is a six-furlong race that Fog should win, so take a trip out to the track and see why everyone's so excited.

By the way,, which offers "official hats and merchandise for Lost in the Fog, the world's fastest horse," is selling a "Lost in the Fog" baseball cap ($19.95). Any hats in the neighborhood?

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THE END OF THE LINE is what they used to call the Upper Noe business district on Church Street between 29th and 30th before Muni extended the streetcar line. It's also the end of the line, owner Peter Kung has decided, for trying to rent out his storefront on the corner of Church and Day. In the 1940s, the storefront was one of the first Safeways; in the 1990s, it was the user-friendly Mikeytom Market.

"I have taken down the 'For Rent' sign and taken it off the rental market for now," says Kung. "At this point, I am seriously contemplating selling the property. I will entertain any reasonable offer. Just write your name and number, put it into an envelope, and drop it in the store's mail slot."

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HOT FLASHES from Washington, D.C.: Our representative in Congress, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, e-mailed the Voice an Earth Day greeting and a warning. Pelosi wrote, "This week, the Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife [Refuge] to oil drilling. It is sheer folly to spoil this unique ecosystem for a six-month supply of oil. If this pristine environment is not special enough to save for our grandchildren, what is?"

That's what it is, folks. Good luck, dear earth.