Noe Valley Voice June 2007

Store Trek

By Laura McHale Holland

Store Trek is a regular Noe Valley Voice feature, profiling new shops and businesses in the neighborhood. This month, we introduce two fresh faces on 24th Street: Hill & Co. Real Estate and a skin care boutique called Primadona.

Hill & Co. Real Estate
3899 24th Street at Sanchez Street

Hill & Co. Real Estate may be the new kid on the block, but the San Francisco-based, family-owned company has been in business for 51 years. The 24th Street office occupies a storefront in a fudgsicle-colored building at the corner of Sanchez Street, where Designers' Club clothing store used to be. Opened in April, it is Hill & Co.'s fifth office.

"I think it was more serendipitous than it was planned," says Jamie Howell, who is the 24th Street office's sales manager. "Michelle Long, one of our realtors here, found that this building was for sale and proposed to the management and the owners, the Costello family, that we buy the building because she lives in the neighborhood and didn't like the long commute to the Lombard Street office. They studied the proposal and found it to be a good business idea."

Hill & Co. has two offices on Union Street and one on Lombard Street, as well as an office devoted strictly to property management in Novato.

Howell, who walks in clogs from his Clipper Street home to work, manages a crew of about 20 agents. "We were very careful in picking our agents in that not only are they seasoned professionals, but they work well in a company of this size, which is not so large," he says. "So the spirit of the company is lighthearted, communal, and mutually supportive."

Agents sit close together surrounded by pale orange and yellow walls, with an occasional red wall adding a splash of contrast. "We love being able to cross the street and go to Good News and buy a magazine or walk to Joe's Café," Howell notes. "There are so many things to do if we have time. Every Friday, we order a pizza from Noe Valley Pizza or Haystack Pizza, and all the agents share. We have a good time."

They also work hard: After only five weeks in business, the office had about 40 transactions either completed, or in the works. "One statistic that I find is representative of our company's work is that according to the San Francisco Business Times, we consistently have the highest sale price per listing throughout the city," Howell says. "We pride ourselves on getting our clients a higher price for their properties than anyone else. I think we do that by a combination of presentation, pricing, and marketing."

Most of the agents in his office are Noe Valley­focused, Howell says, but "secondarily, we're going to be involved in the Mission, Cole Valley, Bernal Heights, Glen Park, Potrero Hill, and most of the southern parts of town, as opposed to the other Hill & Co. branches, which are involved in northern parts of town."

In 1966, Howell came to San Francisco as the lead guitarist in a rock 'n' roll band. He subsequently worked for Jefferson Airplane's record company, Grunt Records. "I oversaw the budgets and production of recordings for them and for other artists on their label," he recalls. He met his wife, Heidi, in 1967. She was Jefferson Airplane's publicist, and she recently retired after many years of working at Live Oak School in Eureka Valley. The couple, who married in 1970, bought their home 30 years ago for $57,000. "We've raised four children in that house," Howell says.

Howell, a lay-ordained Zen priest and former chairman of the board of the San Francisco Zen Center, has been in real estate since the 1980s. "I was working in the music business, and I was gone a lot of the time on the road," he says. He wanted to spend more time with his family. "There weren't very many occupations open to the uneducated and foolish, so I went into real estate," he says with a laugh.

His career choice has also given him the opportunity to be involved in the community, something Hill & Co. values, he says. He's already gotten Hill & Co. contributing to James Lick Middle School's peace garden. "We also want to help the Noe Valley Ministry because they bring so much to the community. And we look forward to helping the library and the Day Street gym," he says. "We want to be as active in community projects as we can be."

The office is open seven days a week. Howell encourages neighbors to stop in to say hello and to view the work of local artists on display.

Primadona Skin Care
4010 24th Street

Into a mere 250 square feet, Enzo and Gabriela Spaccia have packed a world of premium potions to pamper and heal the skin. The name of this adventure in beauty is Primadona. The business also offers two types of mini facial treatments, facial waxing, eyebrow shaping, and professional makeup application. The shop occupies the prime spot on 24th Street between Noe and Castro streets vacated by High Class Nails.

It took the Spaccias six weeks to gut the storefront and remodel it, including new floors and ceiling. Now, lining the light blue walls as you step onto Primadona's deep-blue tiled floor are what Enzo calls the "finest and most progressive skin care lines on the market today.... We have many different choices: botanical, seaweed-based, vitamin C, and glycolic lines, lines that work at a cellular level, lines that work with alpha-hydroxy acids, all natural lines."

Featured skin care lines include Darphin Paris, MD Skincare, Epicuren, Ultraceuticals, Cellex-C, and Mario Badescu, among others. Also on sale are Bond No. 9 fragrances as well as Nouba and Era spray makeup. Items are priced from $20 to $200.

An aesthetician is always on hand to advise on product selection. "We don't expect our clients to look at our services and products as sort of a restaurant menu," Enzo says. "We are the experts, but we do a lot more listening than talking. We look at clients and get a good idea of what type of skin they have and ask what their current skin care routine is, and then we make recommendations."

Enzo adds that everyone is different and that no matter how exquisite a product is, if it's not right for a particular person, they do not recommend it; product price does not drive sales.

Enzo, a native of Rome, Italy, has more than 20 years' experience in the skin care field, from marketing products to high-end spas to serving as an international consultant and educator. He and Gabriela met at one of his seminars. Born and raised in Lithuania, she has a master's degree in biology and over 10 years' experience as an aesthetician. In 2002, they opened their first Primadona location on Union Street, where they have a larger space and can offer more services, such as massage, full facials, and body wraps. The couple live in Pacific Heights with their son, who is in grammar school.

Treatments at the 24th Street boutique, which opened May 18, take place in a reclining chair situated at the front of the store. The $55 ultrasound vitamin C treatment is customized and lasts about half an hour, during which Ultraceutical products are applied to the skin with an ultrasound device. "The machine increases absorption of the active ingredients by almost 300 times, compared to applying them manually," Gabriela says. "It would be the equivalent of using the product yourself at home for 20 days. You'll see real visible results right away. This treatment could be good for someone 14 years old with bad cystic acne, but a 65-year-old could come in with very, very dry skin, high pigmentation, and complaining of wrinkles, and we could treat that kind of skin, too."

The $45 alpha-beta-hydroxy acid peel lasts about 20 minutes and uses the MD Skincare line developed by Dr. Dennis Gross. Gabriela says this peel has a "very wide spectrum of benefits" and is appropriate for all types of skin, young and old, healthy or not--even for people suffering from rosacea. "It is very firming, increasing elasticity, brightening--and lightening, too, for hyper-pigmentation. But it's also very antiseptic and deeply exfoliating and anti-inflammatory," she adds. "And there's no down time. You could actually get this peel today and get married this evening."

The Spaccias selected Noe Valley, in part, because they already had many customers from the neighborhood. "We like to please our clients in every which way possible, and this [shop] is convenient for clients who live nearby," Enzo says. "We've also really always liked the ambiance of 24th Street. People are very nice, very real, warm and friendly. They seem to be wholesome and sincere about their personalities and their needs."

Primadona is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.