Noe Valley Voice July-August 2006

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

GOOD NEWS hit the Chronicle's business page in a June story headlined, "Kroger Talking to Buyer for 12 Bay Area Stores." Listed among the 12 stores was our own Bell Market at 3950 24th Street. And the name of the buyer was none other than Harley DeLano.

As you Rumors-mongers know (see March­June Voices), DeLano is the "hometown" guy who owned Bell during the 1990s. Over the past six months, he has been trying to reacquire the store from Kroger/Ralphs in a package deal that would include up to a dozen other Bay Area Cala/Bells.

The clerks at our market are pretty excited about the prospect of DeLano taking over, after eight years under the control of Cincinnati-based giant Kroger Co. (And we do mean giant--Kroger's profits for the first quarter of 2006 came to over $350 million.)

Still, they were a bit surprised by the revelation in the June 23 Chronicle, because the previous news had been that a DeLano deal had fallen through. But the same afternoon the Chron story broke, the employees' union, Local 648, sent out a representative to Bell to let everyone know that, yes, what the story said was true--the DeLano group is back at the bargaining table, with the union representing the Cala/Bell crew.

Reached a few days later, Mr. DeLano confirmed to the Voice that his company--DeLano Retail Partners--and the union were back to negotiating.

"You know we have been working on this transaction since last December," he said. "I hope that by late summer we will have resolved all the details, but it is kind of a complex transaction. Let me also say that all the folks at Kroger and Ralphs in Southern California have been wonderful to work with. Everyone is trying to make this happen."

DeLano says he intends to expand Noe Valley's organic fruits and vegetables, and that he believes in "all-natural" meats, poultry, and fish. Right now he is raising cattle on a ranch in the Sierra foothills, where he moved after he sold the Cala/Bell chain to Kroger back in 1999. He has been in the grocery business for more than 50 years.

"I will be working with my son Dennis--who has worked in the supermarket industry the past 32 years, 15 for Ralphs--and my daughter, Desiree DeLano, who will be involved with public relations at the stores," DeLano said.

"We are very excited to become part of the communities we serve and we are hoping to attend meetings with the neighborhood groups to talk about the things the neighbors want, and then supply it to them," he added.

Once a deal is ironed out, DeLano's next step will be going around to the landlords of the various Bells and Calas to negotiate or renegotiate the leases.

"I was really sorry to see that the landlord at the Haight Street store sold the property for what I understand would be housing," he said. "It leaves that neighborhood without a supermarket, but the Eureka Valley Cala is close by the Haight, which is not that long a drive."

DeLano also sent greetings to our Board of Supervisors representative Bevan Dufty, "who has been very encouraging through this process, and I look forward to having him attend the community meetings in Noe Valley and the Castro this fall."

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YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A REMODEL: The other market to watch is Real Food Company, which will have been closed for three years come Labor Day. However, workmen were detected going into the premises last month, which sparked rumors that the long-promised "remodel" would soon commence.

The Voice contacted Stephen Hirschfeld, the local attorney representing Nutraceutical, the Utah-based corporation that owns the store. He said that since Nutraceutical now owns the 24th Street building, it is planning a much more extensive renovation and is currently working with architects on the plans. There are no timetables, though.

Knowing the S.F. permit process, my guess is 2008. Meanwhile, our health food needs will have to be filled by Bell Market, Bi-Rite, Mollie Stone's, Rainbow, and the Mom-and-Pops.

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NOEZ IN THE NEWS: Bay Guardian food critic Paul Reidinger gave a favorable review to one of our newest eateries, Kookez Café at 24th and Castro (May 2 issue). And while gushing over the Bayou Butter-BQ Dippin' Shrimp, he coined a new phrase for Noe Valley, calling it "the Beverly Hills of the Googleocracy."

Finally, we have something to put on our Welcome to Noe Valley signs.

If you Google the Canadian newspaper the Edmonton Sun, you can read about their reporter Yuri Wuensch's Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco, where he spent a lot of time having cocktails in Downtown Noe Valley. Writes Wuensch: "Being a devotee of filmmaker David Lynch, I wanted to check out a bar called 'The Peaks,' also in Noe Valley. It was even more of a hole than the punk bar we went to a few nights before. The bartender...was a...cutie, who regal[ed] us with tales of her strange regulars."

And then Noe Valley Bakery owner Michael Gassen was in the Chronicle describing to writer Tara Duggan how his bakers make their scones delicate and flaky. "We want scone dough to be shaggy," he told Duggan, noting that his secret was to add chunks of butter to the dough.

Gassen added that the neighborhood's favorite scone was Blueberry-Pecan, and that he sells between 100 and 200 a day. A quick check with bakery clerk Reed Morgan revealed that Blueberry-Pecan is now being challenged by the Currant-Orange for top scone.

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THE NAG AND THE FLAG: Another Noe Valleyan in the news is a horse, our most famous sprinter, Lost in the Fog. He won the Aristides Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs last month. On July 15, according to owner and local character Harry Aleo, Fog will be running again in a high-stakes sprint at Calder Raceway.

This Fourth of July, Aleo is making the same offer he made last year (on a sign in his window at Twin Peaks Properties on 24th Street): "Free flags to celebrate the 4th of July. A free flag (American) will be given to any Looney Valley merchant, provided the flag is displayed in your store window." The sign continues, "Let's try and break the record last year when four (4) flags were given away."

Aleo likes to keep politics in the forefront. On the other window, he prefaces a CNN quote with the following to get our attention: "Looney Valley anti-military Bush Bashers read this." Then he cites a Dec. 16, 1998, story about President Clinton announcing military strikes against Iraq.

Harry, Clinton was using the Air Force. Bush is using the Army.

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SUB-PRIZE: It looks like the corner of 24th and Castro made famous by Bud's Ice Cream in the 1960s (and more recently by Isabella's Dessert Café) will soon be transformed into a submarine sandwich shop serving Mitchell's Ice Cream for dessert.

New owner Rami Balat is opening Subs Inc., which he claims will serve "the best subs in town, with all the right breads, fixings, and meats. We are creating a new layout for the space which should make it very clean."

Balat has worked with his dad Karim at Noe Valley Deli for the past 15 years. "Yeah," he smiles, "I started working at my dad's deli when I was 10 years old, and so this will be a change for me." He says he is planning a grand opening in the middle of July, but hopes for a "soft opening" sooner. "We will just open the doors as soon as we can," he promises.

By the way, Balat is looking for a picture of Bud's on that corner, to put up on the wall of the new café.

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PARDON MY PIXEL: Noe Valley Computers owner Howard Petrick was surprised last month when clients, neighbors, and friends told him they read in this column that he had closed his business at Church and Clipper.

What I neglected to add was that he then moved his computer services store to a new location: 284 29th Street near Church, right behind Laurel Realty.

"Over 200 people contacted me since the paper came out in June. I was happy to get such a good response," says Petrick, "and real happy we found a new space in the neighborhood for a very reasonable rent, although it is about 60 percent of the space we had before."

Petrick started his computer repair business in 1987, near the corner of Sanchez and 24th, in a small space behind St. Clair's Liquor store. Business prospered during the tech boom, and Noe Valley Computers moved to Clipper Street in 1991. He says he would have preferred to stay at the Clipper Street location, but his lease expired after the building was sold--reportedly for $1.7 million--and the rent doubled.

Another computer shop, Castro Computer Services, recently had a similar experience. With a restaurant taking over its storefront at 1320 Castro, Castro Computer will be moving in August to the corner of 25th and Castro, where Open Door Yoga used to be.

Since it opened almost six years ago, the shop has migrated from one storefront on Castro to another--from 1236 (above 24th) to 1320 (below 24th) and now to 1500 Castro, across from James Lick's rear play yard.

Castro Computer does in-house and home computer repairs and upgrades, and builds custom PCs. "We're also known as the Internet cafe for Noe Valley," says Susan Walia, who's co-owner of CCS with her brother Raj Walia. "We have computers that people can just jump on [rent] right here in our shop."

Though moving is a lot of stress, Susan says she is getting excited about the new location. "It's a much bigger space. Parking is going to be a lot easier for us and our customers."

The extra room will enable her to offer more classes. "We already hold free classes in spyware--spywear is a bear. But we want to increase our training programs so that we can have more free classes."

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SPEAKING VOLUMES: Another Noe Valleyan making a move is Neal Sofman, who is closing down A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, his beloved institution on Van Ness Avenue in Opera Plaza. Sofman, who moved to Noe Valley in 1987, opened the first Well Lighted back in 1975 in Cupertino, then a second shop in Larkspur Landing in Marin. His Opera Plaza store was launched in 1982.

"We closed the Cupertino store in 1997, the Larkspur store in '98, and now Opera Plaza, as soon as we can liquidate the inventory," says Sofman. "Many will ask why this is happening. The reasons are many and complex. The simple answer is that the book-buying market has moved on, either geographically or culturally."

However, all is not lost. Sofman has opened a new, much smaller bookstore, Bookshop West Portal, with his wife Anna Bullard. "One of the mothers in our child's preschool [Eureka Learning Center] told me there was no bookstore in the West Portal shopping district and that the neighborhood really needed one--so I saw it as an opportunity, and found a great spot right across from the Empire Theater."

Sofman and Bullard are inviting the neighborhood to the West Portal store on Saturday, July 8, at 7 p.m., when National Book Award winner Julia Glass will be signing her latest, The Whole World Over.

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NO NOE VOTES: The neighborhood results of the June 6 statewide primary election have been tabulated by the San Francisco Department of Elections. Forty-one percent of Noe Valley's 9,739 registered Democrats went to the polls, and they gave Phil Angelides 2,457 votes and Steve Westly 1,609. A mere 391 of Noe Valley's 1,069 registered Republicans turned out to vote (36.5 percent), and almost all of them (319) voted for Schwarzenegger.

You might be interested to know that only 35 percent of the 596 Noe Valley Greens turned out to nominate Peter Camejo for governor (again), 20 of the 70 Libertarians, 16 of the 56 Peace and Freedom Party members, and only 43 of the 201 Noe Valleyans registered in the American Independent Party.

However, the Natural Law Party was able to get an impressive 42 percent of its local members to the polls, which was three voters.

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KUDOS GO OUT to the crew who work for the Noe Valley Community Benefit District. I am sure you all have noticed how much spiffier 24th Street is, now that we get a daily cleaning. CBD chair Debra Niemann wants everyone to know that you can call 559-8492 to "report major spills, like coke, gum, garbage, loose papers, vomit, or dog-doo messes, on 24th Street between Church and Douglass streets." The CBD gang will be on it in a jiffy.

That's 30, folks. Have a sane and safe holiday, and we'll see you in September.