Noe Valley Voice March 2011

Store Trek

By Karen Topakian 

 Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce a fashion designer named Lola and a musician couple who are creating generations of Little Music Makers.


The duo making kids smile and sing at Little Music Makers on 30th Street are Joshua and Irena Smith.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

Little Music Makers
393 30th Street at Sanchez Street


The sounds of tiny tambourines, accordions, and xylophones happily announce the presence of Little Music Makers, a new music studio for children on 30th Street near Sanchez.

Irena Smith and Joshua Smith—mates, musicians, and owners of Little Music Makers—opened their storefront business on Dec. 1 after having taught music for several years at various locations in Noe Valley, including MoBu Dance Studio and Pixie Hall Studios.

“Noe was the place where we had the most success when we put on kids’ music events,” explains Joshua. “It was a place where we already had a lot of support.”

Irena, who taught for two years in Noe Valley at Music Together, knew a lot of local families too, “and they were all interested” in the new venture, she says.

The couple, whose home is in Inverness, converted the once raw space at 393 30th Street into a multicolored studio decorated with Chinese lanterns, strings of lights shaped like butterflies, and a bouncy rubber floor that is safe for young children. Guitars hang on the wall, ready for playing. Drums sit atop tall wooden cabinets. The stars in the front windows light up at night for families walking to and from the Noe Valley Recreation Center across the street.

On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, Joshua and Irena teach 45-minute live-music song and movement classes to children ages 6 months to 5 years. Irena writes 90 percent of the tunes, many of which are in a folk acoustic style, but songs by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and other favorites also fill the bill.

“We show them a new instrument every week, and then we play and jam on various children’s instruments,” says Joshua, a professional jazz saxophonist at Rose Pistola. Over the course of a 12-week semester, children will see brass instruments, woodwinds, mandolin, accordion, piano, and even the fiddle, which Joshua also plays.

In addition to 11 music classes per week, the Smiths offer beginner guitar and piano lessons for both children and adults. They also are available to perform at special events or rent out their studio for birthday parties.

Little Music Makers’ spring semester runs from March 12 to June 9, with a one-week break in the middle. Now in their fifth season, Joshua and Irena have added a new class for babies (1 to 18 months), on Wednesdays at noon. Children ages 3 to 6 can enroll in a Big Music Makers class, held on Saturday mornings at 11. All classes cost $255; families with more than one child in the program get a discount.

“Forty to fifty percent of our students keep coming back,” says Irena, who has a background in theater and music. “A lot of kids in our class who are 3 years old, I was their first music teacher.”

Drop by the studio or go to www.sfmusic for a class schedule.


Designer Lola Herrera, shown in the back of her Castro Street boutique, creates fashions for all shapes and sizes.     Photo by Pamela Gerard

Lola San Francisco
1303 Castro Street at 24th Street


Lola San Francisco began as a two-week pre-Christmas experiment. Then a funny thing happened. Instead of moving out on Christmas Eve, Lola Herrera, women’s clothing designer and proprietor of Lola San Francisco, stayed right where she was, in the former home of Apple Blossom at 1303 Castro Street at 24th Street.

“What I got was a slow and steady stream of people looking at my work. Within a week I knew,” says Herrera, who promptly moved out of her Mission studio. “After being here for that short period of time, I felt like I could actually be here and work here.”

Herrera set up her eight sewing machines, worktable, dress forms, and bolts of Italian wools, glazed linens, and cotton jersey in the back of the narrow 850-square-foot shop. Her paper dress patterns float in the front window.

“My work is showcasing what I do as a designer,” says Herrera. “Some things are items, some things are outfits.”

A “skirt suit,” for instance, made of Italian cotton Lycra in black with blue stitching, features a jacket and skirt with matching off-center plackets down the front.

A designer for 10 years, Herrera makes dresses, skirts, sweaters, pants, and jackets, ranging from casual everyday styles to high fashion. Her knits, such as a pumpkin-hued long-sleeved tunic sweater, are “simple designs of good quality, but less expensive,” priced from $110 to $250. Customers can buy them off the rack or she will make up whatever is needed.

Her bestselling item this winter was a black and grey plaid cashmere wool hoody jacket, going for $280.

Herrera also offers more high-end jackets and dresses, which appear as samples for customers to order in their choice of fabrics and colors. One sample, a zippered red lambskin “motorcycle-style” leather jacket, reverses to a cream-colored silk charmeuse jacket with a side closure, and is priced at $1,200.

She can fit all sizes and enjoys designing for full-figured women, because “fashion fits better on them than anyone else,” she says.

Her ideas come from the world around her and whatever sparks her interest, including neon signs and trees that are blossoming in the neighborhood.

If you venture into Lola’s this month, you will find Herrera hard at work on her “Japanese-inspired, hand-painted on custom silk” spring collection.

Lola San Francisco is open from noon to 6 p.m. seven days a week.