Noe Valley Voice February 2006

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month we introduce a community-oriented financial institution, an optometrist whose focus is local perspectives, and a vintage clothing store with threads crisscrossing the neighborhood.

Sterling Bank and Trust
3800 24th Street at Church Street

In November, when Sterling Bank and Trust opened its eighth San Francisco branch next door to the exercise studio Fit Lite--in the building that once housed Launderland--the transformation of the northwest corner of 24th and Church streets became complete. Now when people step into the marble entryway of the freshly painted gray-and-green building, they see sleek, custom-designed Herman Miller workstations, a large black safe, and smiling bankers, instead of well-worn washers, dryers, and folding tables.

Steve Adams, the bank's regional manager, says establishing a presence in Noe Valley was a move that made good sense. "We have a lot of customers who live in Noe Valley, and they had been going to our Market Street and Van Ness offices. We saw an opportunity and decided to go for it," Adams says. "I also live on Twin Peaks just above Noe Valley, so I'm in the neighborhood a lot."

Founded 21 years ago, Sterling Bank and Trust is a locally owned institution; its other branches in the city are on Geary, Irving, Alemany, Jackson, and Montgomery streets. The bank offers a full range of financial products, from free personal checking accounts ("We even pay for the checks!" says Adams) to fixed-yield CDs with terms from three months to five years. Adams points out that Sterling's business checking accounts afford a system of cash management that "gives mom-and-pop stores total freedom to pay their employees online, pay their bills online, and manage their business finances online."

The company also offers money market accounts, overdraft accounts, safety-deposit boxes, investment services through Cambridge Research Investments, and a full line of residential and commercial real estate services. The bank's residential real estate department is located in the Noe Valley branch.

Embracing the community even before its doors opened, Sterling Bank joined the Noe Valley Merchants Association and stepped up to sponsor the neighborhood's first-ever Harvest Festival in October. Tom St. Dennis, the bank's president, chairman, and CEO, attended. "I was out there meeting the neighbors. It was exciting," St. Dennis says. "As a bank, you should be involved in the neighborhood. If you're involved, the merchant district thrives, and if the merchant district thrives, then everybody wins."

The Noe Valley branch has a conference room, which is available to customers and community groups for use free of charge. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

--Laura McHale Holland

Eye Level Optometry
1544 Church Street at Duncan Street

Dr. Bonnie Ng has been fascinated with eyes since she got her first pair of contact lenses while a teenager attending Lowell High School. "I'd been wearing glasses since elementary school, and I was just so amazed I was able to see so clearly without glasses. That spurred my interest in optometry," says the owner of Eye Level Optometry.

In December, she opened for business at 1544 Church Street at Duncan Street. The storefront was recently vacated by RYS Architects. It was formerly the longtime abode of Homes of Charm Antiques.

After graduating from U.C. Davis and then from Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Ng returned to her native Sunset District in San Francisco. She worked several years for other optometrists and ophthalmologists before striking out on her own.

"I was able to take the best thing out of each practice and, hopefully, incorporate it into my own practice," she reflects. "I make sure that each patient is happy and satisfied with the quality of care and the quality of products they receive. One great thing about having your own practice is you set your own schedule. I have more time now to get to know each patient as a person, which I enjoy."

Ng has state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and offers comprehensive eye examinations, routine and specialty contact lens fitting, emergency office visits, visual field (peripheral vision) testing, punctal plug occlusion (a procedure where plugs are inserted into tear ducts to slow drainage to help patients with dry eyes), and refractive surgery consultation (for those considering LASIK surgery). She can also prescribe medications to treat infections and other conditions of the eye, as well as monitor for diabetes and high blood pressure--basically, everything except eye surgery, which she refers to an ophthalmologist.

Ng carries an assortment of "very high-quality, stylish" frames, displayed in a light mahogany display case to the left as you enter the office. To the right is a waiting room, which sports comfy chocolate-brown chairs and lighter brown coffee tables that contrast with the beige walls and moss-green carpet.

"I make sure you pick something you'll be happy with," she says. "My ultimate goal is patient satisfaction."

Eye Level Optometry is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

--Laura McHale Holland

4100 24th Street at Castro Street

At the former location of Graystone Wine & Liquor, you can still buy vintage goods--only now they're non-potable. Last November, Graciela Ronconi, owner of Guys and Dolls, a vintage clothing boutique in the 3700 block of 24th Street, opened her second shop, Vendima. While the first shop stocks "fun day wear" like T-shirts and sundresses, the focus of Vendima, which means "vintage" in Portuguese, is evening wear.

Ronconi is particularly excited about the "vintage beauty bar," a case filled with jewelry, purses, shoes, and hats. "Hopefully, I've created a boutique where customers can mix and match clothing and accessories from different eras and create a style that will be uniquely their own," she says.

About 80 percent of her merchandise is vintage from the 1920s through 1970s, and some familiar labels include Christian Dior, Gucci, Chanel, and Bill Blass. Ronconi buys stock from the public by appointment. She also scopes out estate liquidations and wholesale items.

The shop caters to both men and women. Most cocktail dresses are $85 to $200 and women's suits are about $65 to $150. Coats are $75 to $125. In keeping with Valentine's Day, in February the shop is featuring vintage lingerie and accessories. "The nightgowns are so pretty, some customers actually wear them as dresses!" Men can find tuxedos for $150, cashmere coats at $200, cufflinks from $15 to $20, and ties running $15 to $28.

Shoppers will find the space has been completely renovated, save the original hardwood floor. Ronconi has replaced the dark wood paneling with robin's egg blue walls and freestanding chrome racks and fixtures. She notes, "There was only one lonely fluorescent tube hanging from the ceiling," so she put in new lighting as well.

Ronconi, 38, was raised in Noe Valley. "Even though there have been a lot of changes, I enjoy the neighborhood just as much as I did while growing up here." Most of her family lives in San Francisco, as do she and her husband of 14 years, Robert, with their "bratty Siamese cat."

In addition to running two businesses, Ronconi is pursuing her bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising. "Most of my working life has been in retail. Fashion merchandising is always changing, even vintage. And I find that exciting."

Vendima is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

--Olivia Boler