Noe Valley Voice May 2012

And Now For The Rumors Behind The News

Tea Party in Noe

By Mazook

OOLONG TIME: The “No Vacancy” sign has gone up in Downtown Noe Valley. The empty store left when Ladybug Ladybug flew away (4042 24th St.) is filling with a tea shop; the former J&J grocery store at 24th and Chattanooga will soon morph into a women’s clothing boutique; and the long-vacant First National Nails & Tanning Salon storefront on Vicksburg will become home to a seller of oil and oil-related products. Olive oils, that is. Not a gas station.

Rumors of the tea shop emerged at the March meeting of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, after the company sought the endorsement of the group. Headquartered in Montreal,, DavidsTea (logo “DAVIDsTEA”) presented its plans to open its third store in the United States (the first two being in New York City) in the Ladybug spot on 24th Street.

According to Merchants President Bob Roddick, members at the well-attended meeting (“about 25”) were impressed with the tea company (“they really did their homework on the neighborhood”) and the group unanimously voted to support DavidsTea in its quest to win city approval.

“Our thinking was that we want to support that part of our commercial corridor to generate more customers, and we have no opposition to competition and want to support the food industries in the neighborhood,” says Roddick.

As you tea aficionados know, Davids is the seller of a very long list of tea leaves and blends (150 in fact)—green, black, oolong, and so on—many of them flavored. First launched in 2008, the business has over 70 retail locations across Canada from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. The two in New York were opened just last year.

So why was Noe Valley picked?

“We spent several days in Noe Valley, walking up and down 24th Street and hiking up and around the residential areas around 24th Street,” says company founder David Segal, “and we felt that this was the kind of vibrant community we wanted to become a part of to be able to offer to San Francisco the largest selection of tea in the world.” 

Segal says he was very impressed with the Farmers’ Market, enjoyed eating lunch at Toast, and admired the selection at the 24th Street Cheese Company, “where they have the same passion for cheese as we do for tea.” 

He also says he liked seeing all the Victorian houses in the neighborhood, and thought the residence on the corner of 21st and Sanchez—the house former S.F. Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph built for his mistress—was very special, along with the views beyond. “My feet were pretty sore by the end of the day,” he said.

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SEGAL SAYS the company will now make a formal application to the San Francisco Planning Commission for a conditional use permit, which is required in order to open a food-serving business on 24th Street. DavidsTea sells most of its tea in bulk, but also offers it by the cup.

While Noe Valley’s representative on the Board of Supervisors, Scott Wiener, has yet to take a public position on the proposal, his chief of staff, Andres Power, points out that the tea store would not be governed by San Francisco’s laws against a “formula retail outlet,” which is defined as a company with 11 or more stores in the United States.

The building owner, Peter Kung, says he first advertised the space for rent back in December when the head Ladybug notified him she would be moving out. “I went on Craigslist offering the space for lease, but really got no response.” But when he put up a ‘For Rent’ sign on the vacant storefront, “then there were about 50 people who took a look at the space.”

Kung says the queries came from those who were considering opening a restaurant, barber shop, hair or nail salon, ice cream shop, and a clothing store. He says none of the shop-shoppers were willing to commit to a lease, though, despite that “it was a rent below market, from what I was told.” Then he finally received a written offer from the tea company.

The scenario could become interesting: A world-class purveyor of tea moves in between a 25-year-old coffeehouse (Martha & Bros.)—which, according to its patrons, sells the best cup of coffee in the world—and a small bagel shop (Holey Bagel), which has been an equally popular destination since the seventies. And in the middle of that block is the city parklet, with seating for a paltry two dozen.

There is at least one merchant who is already eyeing DavidsTea’s plans with skepticism: Martha Conroy of Martha & Bros.—her coffee shop sells tea. A meeting has been scheduled between various parties to discuss common concerns and the potential impact on the parklet, which is maintained by the Noe Valley Association in cooperation with Martha’s.

Roddick, who says he will be attending that meeting, says he’s optimistic that people will find common ground. “I remember when Martha first came to the Merchants Association in 1987, seeking our support in her opening that café, which we did at that time, along with Spinelli’s Coffee [where Bernie’s is now]. Spinelli’s, along with Martha’s, opened the sidewalks to the neighborhood’s many coffee drinkers.”

Segal’s permit application will be posted soon in the Ladybug window, as will the dates of any public hearings. I’m sure I’ll also read about the tea vs. coffee on the local blogs, where one can speak one’s mind, anonymously or not.

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OLIVE ME: Noe Valley got some style points last month when fashion news blog Refinery29 ran a story by Katie Hintz-Zambrano headlined, “Amazing News: Unionmade Is Opening a Women’s Store in Noe Valley!” 

The store will be opening sometime this summer at 3751 24th St. at Chattanooga Street, where J&J sold its groceries for so many years.

What is amazing, apparently (or apparelly), is that Unionmade is a very popular menswear store over the hill in Eureka Valley (493 Sanchez), selling high-quality clothes and gear.

“Mill” will be the name of the Noe Valley store, which like the blog says, will be Unionmade’s first shop for women.

According to Unionmade’s Spencer Lemon, they made their Noe Valley choice because they found “a great space in a great neighborhood for the women’s lines of clothes we will be carrying,” which are both classic and contemporary. Lemon thinks the new store will be a sure destination for the many who have wanted Unionmade to expand.

And then there is the not-so-run-of-the-mill store that will soon be opening in the only storefront that exists on Vicksburg Street (#304), which is located just behind Joe’s Café at the corner of 24th Street. The nail and suntan spa closed last year.

The new store will be called “Olive This Olive That,” and no, it has nothing to do with Popeye or the Other Reindeer.

The olive-centric store is being opened by Mary Kucel and Janell Pekkain, and will focus on premium varieties of extra virgin olive oil, and about as many varieties (dark and white) of balsamic vinegar. They will have almost 50 different kinds of pasta, made by a small company from Colorado called Pappardelle’s Pasta and sold mostly in farmer’s markets in Washington state and Southern California, according to Pekkain.

“We plan to have samples of all our products available for tasting,” says Pekkain, “and think that the neighborhood will really enjoy some of the unique flavors we will offer.”

And finally, in other stored-up news: First Republic has posted notices on the window of the storefront on the corner of 24th and Sanchez, of a public hearing scheduled for May 17 on the bank’s application to open a branch in the space. (That news might heat up the blogs, too.)

Anybody remember, before Tuttimelon, before Belgano Chocolatier, before Stonehouse Olive Oil, before Dharma, before Tom and Dave’s Juice-It, and before the Pantry, when that spot was a little laundromat?

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TOWN SQUARE DEAL: Last month’s front-page story was about the Residents for Noe Valley Town Square group needing to find some major bucks to help them buy the Noe Valley Ministry parking lot on 24th Street (across from Martha’s) and turn it into a town square. The RNVTS is looking for about $3 mil, and is willing to give naming rights to a large donor, who would have to put up half of the $3.65 million the property is valued by appraisal. You know, like, Noe Valley–Bill Gates Town Square.

Time is of the essence at this point. According to Town Square spokesman Chris Keene, a developer has indeed made an offer to purchase the 9,350-square-feet (the equivalent of four lots) open space for an undisclosed amount, but has agreed to wait five months to see if the town square advocates can raise the funds themselves.

Keene says the Ministry is moving forward with plans to renovate its church building on Sanchez Street, “and should be breaking ground in July,” and will need the money from the sale of the lot to pay for the remodel by fall.

“If we can raise the money, then the [town square] project will have enough, between revenues from the Farmers’ Market and maintenance by the Noe Valley Association, to sustain itself.… We just have to get enough in the capital campaign,” says Keene.

Speaking of the Ministry, set your calendars for Sunday, May 20, for a 6 p.m. Noe Valley Chamber Music season finale featuring opera singers Marina Harris and Laura Krumm and pianist Robert Mollicono. It will be staged at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, 455 Fair Oaks, near 24th Street, where the series continued this year after almost 20 years of performances at the Noe Valley Ministry.

According to Chamber Music Series Director Tiffany Loewenberg, the big news is that Noe Valley Chamber Music will be moving to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 1111 O’Farrell St. (at Gough Street) for the next two years, until it can finally move back to the renovated Noe Valley Ministry.

“While most of our subscribers live in Noe Valley,” says Loewenberg, “our appeal has really grown citywide and our attendance has been growing steadily the past two years, and we have outgrown our present venue since we have had near-capacity crowds and even one sold-out performance.”

“We are grateful to the neighborhood for its support of our season and fundraising efforts, to Circle Bank and Martha Bros. for being the finale concert sponsors, and also to our in-kind sponsors: La Boulange, Noeteca, and Noe Valley Wine Merchants,” she says.

Loewenberg wants to reassure everyone in the neighborhood that “we are still a Noe Valley organization and will continue to be so while the Ministry completes its renovation.”

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PEDAL PUSHERS: A rash of bicycle burglaries from garages was reported last month in the Upper Noe Valley, Fairmount, and Glen Park neighborhoods. Upper Noe Neighbors President Vicki Rosen sent out the alerts, posted by SFPD’s Ingleside Station (and reported later in our monthly Police Beat).

The Noe Valley blog (at also published the police flier, and one of the commentators provided a YouTube link to a video taken by a surveillance camera in the garage where one of the break-ins occurred. Kinda chilling since the burglar was in and out in 20 seconds. These guys have tools to break a single lock (not a deadbolt) and carry the bike out, and they are looking for the high-end models which they can swiftly sell out of state.

“This has become a big problem in the Mission District,” says Mission Police Captain Robert Moser, “and we just hosted at the end of March a whole workshop about bike theft safety, attended by representatives of Mission Station, BART police, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Municipal Transportation Authority, San Francisco SAFE, and the National Bike Registry, to name a few.”

Moser, who was born and raised in Noe Valley (he’s a St. Philip’s grad), points out that bike thefts in the Mission have remained steady and that forced entries have declined overall, “but garage security was one of the focal points in the workshop.” Yep, it’s a problem.

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KUDOS GO OUT to this year’s small-business honorees, who will be toasted by the Board of Supervisors and the Noe Valley Merchants Association for having distinguished themselves in Downtown Noe Valley. Awards will be presented on May 17 at 6 p.m. at the Noe Valley Wells Fargo Bank, as part of Small Business Week (which includes a May 19 Sidewalk Sale in Noe Valley). Those being honored for their years of service to the neighborhood are Father Tony LaTorre from St. Philip’s; Noe Valley Walgreens’ longtime manager Melissa May; Bill Hoover and Dona Taylor, who have run Gallery of Jewels for over 20 years and who recently opened two new shops on 24th Street, When Modern Was and Taylor’s Home and Garden; Rick and Ellen French, who have operated the Animal Company for over 30 years; and the Noe Valley Voice’s own Steve Steinberg, who recently retired as advertising manager for more than 30 years.

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THAT’S 30, FOLKS. Have a great today and the rest of May. We will be back here for the June Swoon and Fog Fizzle, as well as for the Summer Quiz. Ciao for now.