Noe Valley Voice October 2010

Store Trek

By Karen Topakian

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce two businesses that revolve around the basics of school and home. Alain Pinel Realtors links Silicon Valley employees with Noe Valley living, and Kangaroos Play and Learn prepares young children for school.

With six children as their guests, Magda Bachakashvili (left) and Natella Shtern have a fun day ahead at their Kangaroos Play and Learn Center.    Photo by Pamela Gerard 

Kangaroos Play and Learn Activity Center

816 Diamond Street at 24th Street


If making art and playing in the park sound like fun, then Kangaroos Play and Learn Activity Center could be the spot for you. But only if you can count your birthdays on one hand.

Located near the corner of Diamond and 24th streets, Kangaroos opened its doors on May 1, in the storefront formerly occupied by Just Awesome Games. The preschool provides “a place where we can help children learn how to socialize, and prepare them for kindergarten,” says co-owner/director Magda Bachakashvili.

Children enjoy a balance of play and academics in the classroom, she says, as well as visits to local playgrounds such as Noe Courts on Douglass Street. They also receive organic meals and snacks.

Co-owner/director Natella Shtern says a key goal of the center is teaching children independence. But she takes her cues from the parents. “We cater to the individual needs of children and parents,” says Shtern.

The two owners—and teachers Stephanie Cuff and Reem Ghishan—all possess credentials for teaching music, art, dance, exercise, phonics, math, reading, and computer skills to children. “Our job is to get them ready for the real world,” says Bachakashvili.

By limiting class size to 15, Kangaroos maintains a ratio of two to three children per staff member.

Children as young as 2 can attend from two to five days per week in three-hour sessions: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from noon to 3 p.m.

“There are a lot of stay-at-home moms who need that perfect three-hour [slot]” to get work done, run errands, or care for other children, says Bachakashvili.

Both Bachakashvili and Shtern bring their own children to Kangaroos, where according to Bachakashvili, all of the toys and activities are “child-tested by our children.”

All sizes and shapes of painted, stuffed, and cardboard kangaroos liven up the 1,000-square-foot space. Each corner in the room serves as an activity center—there’s a science table, a Lego table, a pint-sized wooden kitchen, and a cozy reading nook. Brightly painted wooden blocks and an abacus sit atop colored bins that store educational toys and puzzles.

Students’ names appear everywhere at Kangaroos: on cubbyholes featuring their photograph, at their seat at the kid-sized tables, and in the bathroom where their own diapers may be stored.

“We help with potty training,” notes Bachakashvili. “We have the parents start the potty training at home, and we mimic the parents.”

Classes cost $395 per month for attendance at two sessions a week, $495 for three a week, and $595 for four.

Parents are asked to sign up for at least three months. “The smallest is three months, to show development,” explains Bachakashvili, “so the parents can see the level of change.”

On weekends, Kangaroos rents out its space for customized birthday parties.

Shtern and Bachakashvili are also the founders of Kangaroos Preschool, which they launched last year on Lawton Street in the Outer Sunset. Shtern says the partners picked Noe Valley for their second location because “we had a lot of parents from [Noe Valley] in our other school.”

Bachakashvili says she knew it was the right move after spending time in the neighborhood. “It’s a stroller street. All you see is just strollers and moms.”


Dan Risman Jones, Natasha Murphy, and regional manager Tim Murray (right) invite the neighborhood to come visit the new Alain Pinel Realtors on 24th Street.    Photo by Pamela Gerard 

Alain Pinel Realtors

3850 24th Street at Vicksburg


Alain Pinel Realtors, one of the country’s largest real estate brokerage firms, has opened an office in Noe Valley.

The office, which opened in early August at 3850 24th Street, is the latest real estate firm to seek business in the neighborhood, an enclave well known for its million-dollar homes.

Tim Murray, veteran real estate executive and Alain Pinel’s Noe Valley office manager, says the company will focus on serving the needs of the Bay Area’s large concentration of high-tech employees.

“We’re a San Francisco firm with strong ties to Silicon Valley,” he says. Alain Pinel already represents more than 25 high-tech and biotech firms—including Google and Genentech—in helping relocating employees buy and sell their homes.

Murray says Alain Pinel also is geared towards assisting financially distressed homeowners. The company currently requires that all of its agents and managers participate in a 20-hour class that certifies them in the sale of bank-owned foreclosures as well as in “short” sales (in which a mortgage lender permits the sale of a property for less than the amount of the loan).

“Our goal is to do an excellent service job in all ends of the market,” Murray says.

In addition to selling residential and commercial real estate and managing rental property, APR offers the services of its own private mortgage adviser. Currently, the Noe Valley office and the firm’s Buchanan Street location share a Wells Fargo Bank loan underwriter, Krista Lott. In the future, Murray plans to add a fulltime underwriter to the Noe Valley office.

The branch is staffed seven days a week, with a full-time receptionist from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and real estate agents on duty between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Murray says the office currently has 12 agents and plans to increase the sales staff to 20.

“Only experienced agents that have already established a presence in Noe Valley with a strong client base” will work out of the 24th Street location, he says.

APR chose to add Noe Valley to its roster of 32 Bay Area offices because the firm was “already doing a lot of business and sold a lot of property” in the neighborhood, he says. The area itself attracted Murray, who says he likes the ambience and the feeling of safety in Noe Valley. “The neighborhood is almost like a small town.”

The agency took over the storefront that Phoenix Books once occupied at the corner of 24th and Vicksburg streets. After a six-month remodeling, the firm now has a comfortable workspace for its agents as well as a client waiting area, kitchen, and a sunny corner conference room. Large planters stand on either side of the front door, “giving everybody a lift when they walk by,” says Murray.

Alain Pinel, based in Saratoga, Calif., is the largest privately owned and independent residential real estate company in California. Realtor Magazine ranked it the 51st largest in the country, based on last year’s volume of sales.