Noe Valley Voice November 2001

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature tracking new stores and businesses in the neighborhood. This month we feature a coffeehouse, a women's clothing boutique, and a flower shop on 24th Street.

Flowers of the Valley

4077 24th Street (near Castro)


Buying flowers can be an international experience for locals who shop at Flowers of the Valley, the neighborhood's newest florist. Co-owners Andrei Abramov and Natasha Tchesnokova moved to California from Moscow 11 years ago and have been in Noe Valley for seven months.

They opened the shop in June and immediately hired a saleswoman who is a native of Poland to assist them. In addition to stocking a large assortment of flowers and houseplants, Flowers of the Valley also provides floral arrangements for weddings and other large events.

Abramov and Tchesnokova are truly locals: they live in the studio behind the storefront. They say they appreciate the welcome they have received from their neighbors. "Our customers are nice -- because generous people buy flowers to give them away," Abramov says.

Abramov has been a florist for 10 years. Tchesnokova is currently studying psychology at U.C. San Francisco, and previously worked at Gump's Department Store.

In addition to cut flowers, their shop also stocks a large assortment of potted plants. An alleyway next to the shop is lined with greenery, from exotic orchids ($22.50) to user-friendly cactus ($9). In the days following Sept. 11, Abramov and Tchesnokova set up a memorial display of flowers and candles on the sidewalk in front of the store. In early October, they were busy decorating the alleyway for the holidays. (Their Halloween giant, shrouded in cobwebs, may look mean, but he is really very friendly.)

For a $3 minimum order, Abramov and Tchesnokova will arrange your floral bouquet gratis; delivery within the city is available for $10.

Abramov notes that the store intends to keep its prices low. In mid-October, splashy bunches of red and orange dahlias were going for $8. Irises were another bargain; $5 would get you 10 purple blooms.

You can also purchase a vase to hold your flowers, ranging from simple glass ($8) to subtly shaded ceramic and elaborately etched and frosted pieces.

Flowers of the Valley is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

--Stephanie Rapp

The Last Laugh

1551 Dolores Street (at Valley)


If you like sipping your coffee in a homey atmosphere, you might want to stop by the Last Laugh, the coffeehouse at Dolores and Valley streets formerly called Janice's Java Joint. Since the place changed hands last summer, the interior looks pretty much the same, but maybe a tad funkier.

As co-owner Ted Putnam straightens the pile of newspapers and magazines on the coffee table between two couches, he says he modeled Last Laugh after a favorite hangout in San Diego, called the Livingroom. "We had two reasons for taking this over," he adds, "to preserve the existence of independent coffeehouses and to provide the neighborhood with some kick-in-the-teeth coffee."

Putnam uses Capricorn beans for regular coffee and Trieste beans for espresso. "It's less bitter than the other popular brands," he claims.

Putnam is a longtime San Franciscan, though he's quick to point out that he is not a native. However, his business partner, Bill Schwartz, is. Schwartz is a musician in a local band called Those Darn Accordions. The two have been friends since the '80s, when Schwartz was in the punk-rock band the Witnesses.

Putnam works as a teacher's aide for children with language disorders at McKinley Elementary, a public school here in San Francisco. Now in his mid-30s, he lives down the street from the Last Laugh.

Putnam's coffee tending goes back to the '80s, when he worked at Café Commons on Mission and Precita streets.

In addition to standard coffee fare, the Last Laugh serves pastries, cookies, and muffins (large muffin $1.75), which come fresh daily from the Meeting House Restaurant on Octavia Street. Bagels (with cream cheese, $1.50) are from Katz Bagels.

Be aware, though, that the Last Laugh is geared for morning people. Doors are open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. "We get steady business in the morning, but this neighborhood gets too quiet in the afternoons for us to stay open all day," explains Schwartz.

"But we'll open up for a group meeting at the drop of a hat!" adds Putnam. Just give them a call at 824-5524.

--Heidi Anderson


4037 24th Street (near Castro)


Partners and designers Ursula Labermeier and Sharon Adlis have created an upscale women's clothing store with the feel of a European boutique. Located on 24th Street at the former site of the Terra Mia pottery studio (now on Castro), Riki is a roomy, uncluttered shop, where the focus is on the quality of the clothes.

Riki is also the name of the line of sleek and classic clothing the two women design. Labermeier says she chose "riki" (the logo is in lower-case) because "I wanted a fun, catchy, and easy-to-remember word for the clothing line." A second clothing line, "riki-ella," is cut more generously and tends to run a size larger. "It's not so body-conscious," explains Adlis, "but it's not matronly at all."

The Noe Valley shop is the third store opened by Labermeier (the first she opened 15 years ago in Davis, Calif.; the second two years ago on Grant Avenue). She joined forces with Adlis almost two years ago.

The two women share a love of classic clothes and luxurious fabrics. Most of the fabrics they use come from Italy, but the sewing is all done locally. "We're very picky about the sewing," says Adlis, noting that the clothes are sophisticated but not corporate looking.

Riki offers a selection of separates designed to mix and match. "The store is like a big closet. You can build [your wardrobe] season by season," says Labermeier. "Buy a skirt in the spring and add a jacket in the fall. Our clothes are designed to work together."

With the right accessories, she notes, the same pieces can look funky, tailored, or sexy. The designers have just started to create wide leather belts to complement their clothes. Riki also carries shoes, socks, and purses -- accessories the designers think work best with their clothes. Riki also sells lingerie, with the same attention to fine fabrics and detailing.

A square-neck, long-sleeved, micro-fiber T-shirt goes for $49. For $10 more, you can buy a striped, slightly quilted top with colored stripes. A stretchy gray and white pinstripe dolman-sleeved jacket is $164. For cool days and nights, a two-tone, burgundy wool jacket-coat costs $250. "It's a one-of-a-kind piece," says Labermeier.

Though neither owner lives in the neighborhood, they are thrilled with their 24th Street location. "It's like a small town. We never wanted to be in a mall setting, but want to be a part of a community," Labermeier says.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

-- Stephanie Rapp