Noe Valley Voice December-January 1998-99

Tinsel Trees Strung Up on 24th Street

By Suzanne Herel

Union Street it's not, and that's just fine with 24th Street merchants, who after debating the issue for years now are trotting out the same weary red-and-green tinsel Christmas tree decorations to "liven up" the strip.

The tattered, 20-year-old decorations have few defenders. ("Oh, those green things sticking out from holes" is how Cover to Cover owner Nicky Salan describes them.) But spending the money for new ones isn't at the top of the merchants' list either.

The Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association was going to try to replace the trees this year with banners of a universal theme, said president Bob Roddick, but the money wasn't available. The estimate for hiring an artist, creating the banners, and hanging them up exceeded $15,000.

"We [usually] exhaust our budget by the end of the year," Roddick said, adding that the group was denied nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service. That means that though they can apply for grants, any private donations are not tax-deductible.

After failing to receive a recommendation for a banner design from his association's decorations committee, Roddick asked the full 130-member group whether to resurrect the tinsel trees, which cost $1,500 a year to store and hang on utility poles. The upshot of the survey: "We figured it was better to put up the old decorations than have nothing."

Sheila Ash of Noe's Nest, who served on the committee, said one of the ideas her group came up with was to ask the local public school students to make new decorations. But time slipped away, and the plan lost momentum. The committee did suggest, however, that 24th Street shopkeepers line their windows with white lights to create a uniform sparkly glow.

Some merchants would just as soon stick to small-scale decorations anyway.

"We have a funny attitude in Noe Valley," said Glen Potter, owner of Accent on Flowers. "We don't care whether decorations attract people or not. We don't want the Union Street crowd -- there's not enough parking here."

Potter said he'd rather concentrate on decorating his own storefront window, where white lights now frame a giant white Christmas ball, cut open to reveal a wintry village.

Still, most store owners and customers agree that the tinsel trees are pretty shabby and that the neighborhood deserves a more artistic replacement. "We'll start the whole process again in January," says Roddick. And who knows what Santa might bring next Christmas.

In fact, you can ask Santa yourself -- he'll be at the Bank of America from noon until 4 p.m. on Dec. 12. The Merchants Association is offering free pictures with the bearded benevolent, along with refreshments. Carolers are scheduled to stroll the strip on Dec. 12 and 19.