Noe Valley Voice February 2009

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Noe Valley turned into a ghost town during the morning hours of Inauguration Day, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. By 8:30 a.m., all the streets were empty. After collecting data from a random sample of shopkeepers, the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation (NVBI) estimated that almost 100 percent of the 90 percent in Noe Valley who voted for Obama last November watched his inauguration.

Bernie Melvin, of Bernie's Coffee on 24th Street, was up early that day. "We were very, very busy from 5:30 that morning to about a half past eight, and then boom, everybody disappeared and it was like a ghost town out there on 24th Street, and they really didn't come back out until early afternoon."

Patricia Larizadeh, who is Martha's Coffee's longtime barista, said she could hear a pin drop too. "I have never seen anything quite like what happened inauguration morning--this early rush of people, and then, poof, nobody--no cars, no nothing."

That afternoon, Larizadeh, who also lives in Downtown Noe Valley, confirmed that "24th Street returned to normal." But there was a difference. "People around here seemed much happier."

A lot of locals stayed glued to their TVs until they actually saw George Bush get on his helicopter. Standing in the doorway of the chopper, the former president waved goodbye and mouthed the words, "So long, suckers!" (Or something like that.) As Bush whirred away, people in Noe Valley waved back and cried: "Mission accomplished! At last he's gone!"

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THE BUSH ERROR, and the financial crisis it spawned, has had a clear impact on the local business scene. Many merchants in the blocks of 24th between Church and Castro streets recorded lukewarm sales in December and a near freeze in January. Some stores even closed.

Many of the survivors fear what will happen when Bell Market closes down on Valentine's Day and 24th Street lies fallow for six months (while Whole Foods does its renovation).

"I want to change the awning on the front of my store from 'Good News' to 'Bad News,'" jokes newsstand owner Sam Salameh. "Newspaper and magazine sales have fallen quite a bit in the past six months, except for the most popular publications like the New York Times and several very popular magazines like the New Yorker, the Economist, Wired, and Rolling Stone."

"[Otherwise] my business has been going down by almost 30 percent from last year. I am sure hoping the economic news will be better," he shrugs.

FYI, Salameh says the N.Y. Times outsells the S.F. Chronicle by 20 percent or more during the week. The Sunday Times also is more popular. "The New Yorker is our biggest seller," Salameh says.

Next door at the bath shop Common Scents, co-owner Jan Van Sweringen, told the NVBI, "We had a fabulous Christmas, but have absolutely crashed in January. We've seen much less foot traffic on the street, and in reality we're expecting even less when Bell Market closes down in the middle of February."

Ladybug Ladybug co-owner Sheila Istvanick reports a similar sales drop of 30 percent, "but we kept our buying pretty tight. We found many people buying our clothing products, which are 95 percent made here in San Francisco or nearby." And what about card sales? "Ah, that pretty much stays the same and actually has gone up somewhat," she says.

Judy Frangquist at the popular Lisa Violetto is trying to stay upbeat. "Sure, we are down from last year, and we kind of expected that, but we are hanging on because of our very loyal customer base." She says she was sad when next-door neighbor Noe Valley Video closed, and she worries about other businesses closing.

"I have seen a dramatic drop in business in the past few months," says Denny Giovannoli, owner of Tuggey's Hardware, Downtown Noe Valley's oldest ongoing business. "Many of my weekday customers who are working in the building trades and coming here for materials are out of work these days, and not too optimistic about the future. I am now giving full service on Saturdays and Sundays to better accommodate the residents in the neighborhood and I'm seeing more folks coming in on the weekends."

Giovannoli says his big worry for so many of his fellow merchants is that business closures create less street traffic and fewer shoppers.

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WHOLE LOTTA FOODS: An event not to be missed will be the Feb. 18 town hall meeting sponsored by the Noe Valley Democratic Club, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at St Philip's Church (see Short Takes, page 23).

Given the cast of characters--Supervisor Bevan Dufty, SFPD Captain Stephen Tacchini, Debra Niemann of the Noe Valley Association, and Glen Moon from Whole Foods--the NVBI thinks it would be wise to arrive early. The room could fill up rapidly, and bring out the fire marshal.

As reported in the December Rumors, Whole Foods appears to be following through with promises to be responsive to the Noe Valley community. WF will redo everything inside the four walls of the Bell building. The parking lot will stay the same--except, of course, the signs will change. WF will take over the space March 1, and has targeted a reopening six months later.

A design team (Andrew Calabrese, Adam Smith, and Gabriel Rossi) appeared on behalf of Whole Foods at the Upper Noe Neighbors meeting Jan. 29 at the Upper Noe Rec Center. It was attended, according to UNN president Vicki Rosen, by over 40 locals, who had lots of questions. And they got answers.

"What Whole Foods emphasized at the meeting was that this store will be one of their smaller ones and will be designed to sell their core food products. They are going to concentrate on having more food and fewer yoga mats and body products," says Rosen.

"I was very pleased that [Whole Foods] seemed very responsive to the parking problems that are expected after they open, and would even consider a local shuttle bus route in the neighborhood to help us avoid taking our cars to the store," continues Rosen. "I was also happy that many of our members expressed their concerns, urging everyone to continue their support of the Church Street merchants and to patronize them first."

According to Glen Moon, Whole Foods has attempted to buy the long closed Real Food building across the street from Bell, but was informed that the property was not for sale.

As you know, the owner of that 24th Street property is the Utah-based Nutraceutical Corporation. Apparently, Nutraceutical is refusing to use it, or to lose it, or to even tell us what it plans to do with it. The company is quite content with the status quo, which is an empty storefront. What a contrast in corporate styles.

Meanwhile, there will be a going-away ceremony to honor the Bell Market employees on Saturday, Feb. 7. The event is being sponsored by the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, and will be held in the mini-park at 24th and Vicksburg, beginning at 11 a.m.

If you like, you can follow your favorite Bell folks to the last remaining Bell/Cala/Ralphs/Kroger in Northern California--the Cala Foods on the corner of California and Hyde streets. It might be worth the excursion, especially for those Club Card members who still want to redeem their bonus points.

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FINAL VINYL: Local music lovers will dearly miss our beloved Streetlight Records, which was a destination for people throughout the Bay Area for 32 years. The final disc rolled out the door on Jan. 31. Adios, amigos.

Sunlight Weismehl, who had been working there for the past 20, says he is making a move within the company to "doing online sales, which are getting bigger and bigger every year."

Both Art Casares and Mike Dineen, who've spent the last dozen years at the 24th Street store, say they will be going over the hill to work in Streetlight's Eureka Valley location on Market near Castro. Casares says, "I really am sorry to leave the Valley, but that's what we've got to do."

The storefront has not been rented yet. Perhaps the $12,000 in monthly rent is somewhat daunting to prospective tenants. What the Streetlight space will become is anybody's guess.

Closing rather abruptly in December was the upscale women's boutique Riki, which had been at its 24th Street location since 2001. The sign on the front door explained: "We've consolidated--visit us at our Berkeley and Davis stores."

The Voice caught up with Riki owner and designer Ursula Labermeier at her Davis shop. She said she was sorry she had to close but it was time "to focus on our other stores." She is working with a real estate agent and the landlord to find a tenant to take over the lease. The rent for Riki's space, by the way, is $5,200 per month.

Deep Sushi, the popular eatery on Church near Day, did not reopen after the business went on vacation for the holidays. The space has been dark for a month, and no human or machine is answering the phone. The rumor around Upper Noe is that the chef went to work in a Daly City sushi bar and that Deep Sushi has been or will be sold. Stay tuned for more news later.

All those rumors are true: Contigo, the new Spanish-flavored restaurant on Castro between 24th and Jersey, has finally won its three-year battle to open. The doors will swing open, according to the restaurant's blog, at precisely 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Good luck.

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KUDOS AND SIGNS: Noe Valley filmmaker and Academy Award winner Debra Chasnoff screened her new documentary Straight Lace--How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Saturday, Jan. 14. The movie features many high school students talking candidly about pressures caused by rigid gender roles and homophobia.

Kudos go out to Noe Valley native Sol Sender, who, reports his dad Ramon Sender, worked on the team that designed the red and blue circle Obama logo.

Thanks to Erik Martinez, the new owner of Urban Cellars (on 24th Street near Church), for restoring the two-sided marquee above the store and the witty sayings posted there that have kept us all looking up and laughing. The wind blew the marquee down last year.

Before that for many years, former Cellars owner Walid Masoud would keep us all amused by his signs. My favorite was (side 1) May all your pain be sham pain; (side 2) May all your champagne be real. The runner-up was (side 1) 24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case; (side 2) Coincidence?? By the way, Erik has a suggestion box--so you can submit your favorite lines for the marquee.

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HARRY'S HORSES are still winning. When iconic local realtor Harry J. Aleo passed away on the 2008 summer solstice (June 21) at age 88, he was survived by his longtime significant other Beldean Bartlett, his three daughters Valerie, Carole, and Terry, a grandchild Wyatt, and 10 racehorses. Two of the horses, Wild Promises and High Resolve--both sprinters--won big races last month in the prestigious Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park in Florida. The purse for the former was $500,000, and the latter $300,000.

Aleo gained international celebrity with his most famous sprinter, Lost in the Fog. A documentary about Harry and the Fog, produced by Noe Valleyan John Corey, is being screened around the world and has even been broadcast from time to time on a TV screen in the front window of Aleo's Twin Peaks Properties. (See this issue's front page.)

According to probate court records, Aleo's estate was valued at nearly $24 million, and he was earning over $400,000 a year from his property investments. Four of his Noe Valley properties were recently sold for over $5 million to pay taxes and the expenses of the estate. Most of his property, including several parcels in Downtown Noe Valley, is held in a trust and currently not for sale.

There are rumors that the public parking lot across the street from his office may be named in honor of him. Back in 1959, Harry Aleo was president of the Noe Valley Merchants Association, a group of 19 members. Noe Valley had no public parking lots at that time, so the association bought the space and then gave it to the city, to be turned into a lot that would encourage shoppers to drive to Noe Valley.

That's 30, folks.