Noe Valley Voice October 1998

Rite Aid Drugstore Agrees to Shrink Sign on 24th Street

By Mark Robinson

The new Rite Aid sign on 24th Street was big, red, and "garish" -- and Noe Valley's leading neighborhood group didn't like it.

But here's where the story takes a surprising twist: Instead of the usual clash between feisty neighborhood activists and steely chain-store executives, the two sides proceeded to work out their differences peacefully -- with a little help from the political pros.

A new, smaller, more subdued sign is slated to go up sometime this month.

The problem began last spring, when Rite Aid started remodeling its store at 4045 24th St., previously a Thrifty Jr. drugstore outlet. Rite Aid, which is based in Vallejo, acquired the Thrifty chain in 1996 and has been revamping the chain's hundreds of stores ever since.

When the new sign went up, the Friends of Noe Valley lost no time in protesting. Friends board member Claire Pilcher wrote a letter complaining about the red plastic sign, describing it as "garish and oversized." Just in case the company didn't get it, she helpfully included a dictionary definition of the word garish. Pilcher pointed out that the Friends had worked out an agreement on signage with Thrifty when the store opened in 1987.

"It's ridiculous to have a sign that big on 24th Street," Pilcher said in an interview. "Where do they want it to be seen, Potrero Hill?"

The Friends of Noe Valley, founded in 1971 in Pilcher's living room, now has about 200 members. Over the years the group has taken a keen interest in the neighborhood's commercial district, pushing for a special zoning designation for 24th Street, lobbying for a moratorium on restaurants and coffee stores, and pushing for more parking.

This time around, the group called on San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno for help with the Rite Aid sign. Besides owning a sign business himself, the supervisor lives in Noe Valley. Leno in turn got in touch with Rite Aid's San Francisco lobbyist and lawyer, Bob McCarthy.

After a few rounds of meetings, phone calls, faxes, and redesigns, Rite Aid came up with a sign that wasn't perfect, but it was close, said Pilcher. It was smaller and more discreet, with blue lettering.

At press time, the two sides were still ironing out details of the new logo. "We may get a smaller one yet," Pilcher said.

Rite Aid's director of real estate, Jeff Halbert, said the company, which has fought a series of contentious battles with residents in other neighborhoods in San Francisco, was happy to make the changes for the Noe Valley branch.

"It's not like we have a corporate sign stamp that we put on every store," he said. "Our objective is to be a good neighbor."

Supervisor Leno said he also was pleased with the success of the negotiations. "This has been a good example of how interests can be communicated and how compromises can be reached," he said.

More of the same may be in order. The Friends of Noe Valley also has concerns about the new facade and interior planned for the store.

Said Pilcher: "Some of our people saw the [Rite Aid] store at West Portal. They say it looks like a prison."