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Peggy Burge Callahan, 1942-1998
A Personal Memoir by Mike Callahan
My wife Peggy Burge Callahan -- known to many Noe Valley residents as the owner of Cathexis, a shop that thrived on 24th Street in the '70s and '80s -- died on August 23, 1998, of complications stemming from esophageal cancer. She gallantly fought the disease for 18 months. She was 56.
Peggy Burge was born on Jan. 19, 1942. She grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and moved to San Francisco in 1964.
When she first got the idea to open a shop in Noe Valley, she was working for the post office, driving a truck and collecting mail around the city. Two of her co-workers, Paul Garvey and Larry Alperstein, told her they'd recently opened a small bookstore, Books Plus, in a quiet, working-class neighborhood centered on upper 24th Street. They advised her to follow her dream also, and to open a crafts store in the vacant storefront across the street from their bookshop (now Cover to Cover).
Peggy already knew the neighborhood and loved visiting East of the Sun, a popular toy store at 23rd and Vicksburg. So she handed the 24th Street landlord her $185-a-month rent and signed a two-year lease.
In the summer of 1972, after checking out a book on business at the library, Peggy opened Cathexis at 3927 24th St. ("Cathexis," from the Greek word kathexis, means a concentration of mental or emotional energy on a person, thing, or idea.)
That same year she settled into a rented cottage on Elizabeth Street, next to the play yard at St. Philip's Church. Later we lived there together, and were married in 1977.
In the early days, Cathexis primarily sold arts and crafts and craft supplies. In between helping the infrequent visitors to the store (24th Street had a much slower pace back then), Peggy worked on her own crafts: macramé and crochet. In the spirit of the times, she also provided a "Free Clothing Room," where people could leave donations or acquire hip "new" threads.
Part of the delight of Cathexis was the store's huge variety of toys, candles, cards, stickers, and other inexpensive curios. Peggy called it a "marvelous miscellany." Many children, now adults, fondly recall trips with their mother to the shop. There was always some irresistible little trinket for a quarter or less.
Peggy loved shopping and buying for the store at the wholesale marts, gift shows, and import houses. She also sought work from local craftspeople, many of whom brought their wares to Cathexis to leave on consignment.
Holidays were hard work and great fun at Cathexis. Peggy encouraged everyone to dress up for Halloween and one year brought in an old suitcase of costume bits -- including multicolored wigs and a very realistic gorilla mask -- just in case someone needed to borrow an outfit.
Christmas meant a staff of about 15 workers in various shifts, with six clerks all trying to ring up the cash register at once. After the holiday rush had passed, Peggy would host a staff dinner at her home or at a local restaurant.
In the 15-year history of Cathexis, Peggy had many loyal employees, including Melody Knight, Mimi Ramirez, Tuzie Schaefer, Carol Sitz, Katy Allen, and Karol Barske. (I offer apologies to anyone I may have neglected to mention.) Karol Barske, who became a close friend, says that what she'll miss most about Peggy was her great sense of humor and the running gags the two of them shared.
Every two years, Cathexis' lease expired and the landlord increased the store's rent to the "going rate." By 1987, the monthly rent had risen to $2,400 and Peggy was ready to call it quits. She sold the store to Marjory Panetti, who opened Panetti's gift store, still there today.
Over the years, the cost of homes in Noe Valley escalated from $25,000 to $500,000, and many small businesses expired due to skyrocketing rents. The older stores and barbershops gave way to the clothing stores, then the restaurants and coffee stores -- whatever business could bring in the most money per square foot. Among the shops that met their demise were Al Frey's toy store near the former Meat Market Coffeehouse, Polly's Antiquus Bibliopole, the Wooly Mammoth yarn store, Ron Green's Plant Works, Rexall Drugs, and the two dime stores, Meyer's Variety and Glen 5 and 10.
After Peggy sold Cathexis, she took a year off and then returned to school. She pursued her interest in art and books by taking classes in fine arts, crafts, and library science at City College and Fort Mason. By that time, she and I could no longer afford Noe Valley and we had moved to Glen Park.
Her friends and family held a memorial service for Peggy at St. Francis Church in September, a few weeks after her death. She is survived by her brother, James Burge, and her sister, June Burge Johnson. (Her beloved sister Celia died two years ago.)
In the last years of her life, Peggy sometimes wondered how she would be remembered. I think she would be pleased to be remembered as the owner of Cathexis, which served Noe Valley from when it was a sleepy little neighborhood to its eventual upscale turn.
Peggy, and Cathexis, touched many lives in the neighborhood.