Noe Valley Voice October 2007

Store Trek

By Lorraine Sanders

Store Trek is a regular Voice column profiling new shops and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we feature a jewelry designer who recently became a mother, and a family-owned and operated locksmith business.

Uncivilized Elegance by Mabel Chong
1311 Church Street at 25th Street

A lot of new things have recently come into jewelry designer Mabel Chong's life. Not only did Chong welcome her firstborn, Claire Marie Moon Welte, into the world on Sept. 1, but her designs also recently landed a coveted spot in the Bettina Duncan boutique at Fred Segal, a Santa Monica mecca for cutting-edge fashion. But most importantly for those of us in Noe Valley, Chong chose the neighborhood as the location for her first retail boutique, Uncivilized Elegance.

"What's great about being a designer here is the local people. They really support local designers, especially in Noe Valley. Girls come in, and they always say, 'We like to help local designers,'" Chong says.

But Chong and husband Mark Welte, an advertising executive, had other reasons for wanting to open up shop here. Before moving to London for a year in 2003, the couple lived on Dolores Street, just one block from where their shop is now. Since their return to San Francisco in 2004, Chong and Welte have lived in the Inner Richmond, but miss their old stomping grounds.

In preparation for the store's opening on Aug. 15, the couple transformed the space--the former Artery studio, on Church Street near 25th--into a retail boutique and studio workspace, separated by sheer white curtains. Walls of textured white plaster contrast with a tiled floor painted a glossy rust hue, while a leopard-print rug, vintage furnishings, and dress forms laden with Chong's jewelry serve as decoration.

"We wanted to go somewhere in between Mediterranean and Mission styles," says Welte, who plans to hang a chandelier and wall panels in the boutique soon.

Inspired by the colors in nature and the beauty of seemingly incongruent pieces that work when put together, Chong's delicate jewelry ($65 to $1,000) sparkles with semi-precious stones, pearls, sterling silver, and gold. With the help of her partner Lili Wu, Chong assembles necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings from thousands of carefully selected stones and one-of-a-kind objects such as paper-thin leaves dipped in copper. She never uses glass or crystal, but instead combs gem shows for favorite varieties like London and Swiss topaz.

"I really love high-quality, sparkling natural stones. I spend lots of time and money on stones. Basically, I'm a stone freak," she says.

While the shop is stocked with Chong's latest collections, she also creates custom pieces, often designing wedding jewelry for brides and bridesmaids. When crafting a new design, she tries to tap her wildest passions, she says. "Each of us acts upon our uncivilized essence to create something of beauty."

Before striking out on her own several years ago, Chong spent four years working for a major pearl wholesaler. During her stint with the company, she frequented trade shows packed with jewelry designers. When she decided to start her own line, she put her past experience to good use. "She had her first taste of commercial success at the Alemany Flea Market. Then a year later, she was doing trade shows all over the country," says Welte with obvious pride.

With baby Claire Marie new to their household, the family kept the boutique open only on weekends in September, but Chong returns to her regular hours this month. An opening event is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1, 2007. Check the web site or stop by the boutique for more details.

Uncivilized Elegance by Mabel Chong is open from noon to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and by appointment.

Locksmith Central
3977 24th Street at Noe Street
415-665-KEY8 (5398)

If you need to pick a lock (for legitimate reasons, of course), Michael Young is your man. The owner of Locksmith Central, which relocated to 24th Street from the Sunset in late July, is an expert locksmith. He even won first place in a lock-picking contest held in San Francisco several years ago. But don't expect him to reveal the tricks of the trade.

"It just takes constant practice. Unfortunately, we can't tell members of the public how to pick locks," says Young, who has operated his company for the last decade and been a professional locksmith for 18 years.

Young and brothers Peter and James, who work with him, are eager to let potential customers know that they are new to the block of 24th Street between Sanchez and Noe.

"I want everybody to know that we had nothing to do with Ames," Young says of the locksmith company that formerly occupied the storefront. According to Young, that company was evicted by the building's landlord, who then contacted Young and offered him the space.

The new location is a welcome change for Young, he says. Not only was foot traffic slow in the former location at the corner of Judah and 34th streets, but Young already counted many Noe Valley residents among his clients, including the staff of Real Management Company on Castro Street.

Young and his brothers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist with residential and vehicular lockouts. It usually takes about a half-hour for Young and his crew to arrive for emergency calls, and he says 99 percent of his customers end up paying the same fee he quotes them over the phone. Fees for unlocking a car or home lock are generally in the $85 to $95 range. Inside the shop, costs for cutting a simple key start at $2. The shop carries keys, lock parts, and products from Schlage, Baldwin, and Marks brands, among others.

Locksmith Central also specializes in lock changes and repairs, even on old models that are no longer manufactured. Young says he regularly attends swap meets and flea markets looking for old locks and lock parts to add to his inventory.

"I have a lot of locks that were common 20 years ago but are no longer made," he says.

In the shop, customers can get keys copied for almost any model of car, though Young does concede that there are a small number of digital locks on luxury vehicles for which he has not yet "cracked the code."

While you're most likely to catch Young zipping around town in his service vehicle helping clients get back into their homes and cars, he says he'll never consider becoming an entirely mobile business.

"I don't want to be another mobile locksmith. They cash your check, and you can't find them again. I like to have a shop so my clients feel comfortable, so they feel like they can find me," he says.

Lastly, if you think your lockout situation is embarrassing or bizarre, fear not. Fighting roommates, lost purses, those with sudden bouts of short-term memory loss--Young has seen it all.

"You name it, we've basically run into it," he says.

Locksmith Central is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and 24 hours a day for lockout emergencies. The business is bonded and licensed by the state of California.