Noe Valley Voice June 2002

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature introducing new shops and businesses in Noe Valley. This month's Store Trek ventures into two Church Street stores where you can buy things for the home. One offers gifts that are new and luxurious, the other a collection of charming curios from yesteryear.


1484 Church Street at 27th Street


In the spot that used to be the Fountain of Youth ice cream parlor is a new kind of fountain, one that is brimming with creature comforts -- cozy quilts, scented candles, silk pillows, French soaps, even hand-dipped chocolates.

"People always come in, take a deep breath, and tell me how good it smells in here," says Elena Duggan, who opened her store Willa, on Church Street near 27th, on April 10.

Then they gaze around at a room that is full of beautiful objects. "I tried to really make the shop a feast for the eyes."

Available for feasting (and buying) are a wide range of home and bath accessories. Duggan has stocked Belgian linen kitchen towels ($12); candles from Geodesis ($8); French-style quilts ($100 and up); books about wine, cooking, and traveling ($16 to $40); and Michael Recchiuti chocolates in assorted forms, including Key-lime dipped pears ($6.75).

She carries a selection of table lamps, vintage French patio furniture ($30 and up), and oversized fruit-picking baskets (3 feet by 2 feet, $95). "These baskets can really hold a lot!" she says, pointing out the dozen or so throw blankets stored in a basket on display.

The store also offers a glittering array of crystal and rhinestone jewelry, including original pieces by Berkeley artist Annie DeCamp ($12 and up).

All these items are housed in a small Victorian storefront, which Duggan feels lucky to have found after a yearlong search. "I like this street corner with the big trees," she says. "And when I saw the space, I knew right away that the walls would look good in blue." An artist friend painted a blue sky with fluffy white clouds on her ceiling.

The shop is named after Duggan's dog Willa, a Yorkie-poodle mix, who sometimes accompanies her to the store.

Though she grew up in the Sunset, Duggan now lives in Noe Valley, on 29th Street. Her father, John Duggan, grew up on Whitney Street and attended school at St. Paul's. "My dad and mom met on Army [now Cesar Chavez] Street, when both of them had friends in the same family, the Gammas."

Before opening Willa, Duggan worked for five years as manager of her parents' restaurant, Original Joe's on Taylor Street. She also earned a business degree with an emphasis in hospitality.

"But I always wanted to open a store of my own, filled with eclectic, unique things for your home," she says.

Duggan notes that several customers have come in, kids in tow, thinking her shop was still the ice cream parlor that closed about a year ago. "The kids tend to roll their eyes and say, 'Oh well, let's go,' but a lot of the moms say something like, 'Hang on a minute, I want to look around!'"

Willa is open Tuesday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The shop is closed on Mondays.

Nifty Vintique

1767 Church Street at 30th Street


According to Holly Schneider, there are a lot of kitchen items -- old pots and pans, for instance -- that should never be thrown away. They might have some hidden charm, or they might be fixable and perfectly good to use. They might even have new life as, say, a flowerpot.

Nifty Vintique, Schneider's new store at Church and 30th streets, is a place for such items, most of them made between the turn of the (19th) century and the 1960s. The shop opened on May 11.

"I love the stories of things, everyday things, and how they were used," says Schneider, adding that she's been collecting kitchen and garden stuff since she was 8 years old. Now 35, she has worked for several years as a waitress, photo stylist, and artist. But she always had her heart set on opening a store. "I saved my tips while waiting tables at Calzone's in North Beach for years while looking for a good spot. This place is just right, 360 square feet, for getting my start," she says.

The tiny store is bright and cheerful. "I knew I wanted the walls yellow, and for the place to feel warm and inviting, like my grandma's kitchen -- kind of kitschy, kind of homey." The walls are festooned with 1920s kitchen utensils (many with red wooden handles), colorful china plates, and photographs of people living in times gone by.

A photo of Schneider's grandmother Eleanor has a place of honor. It shows "Gramma El" with a team of other women, all in aprons, standing in a large kitchen. "She was a lunch lady in the school cafeteria!" she says proudly. "Remember them?"

Other items in Nifty Vintique may spark similar nostalgia in customers: salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of toasters or chickens, $4 to $40; 1940s Saltines cracker tins for $6; travel cases from the '20s and '30s, $19 and up; a McCoy cookie jar from the '70s, $59; gingham aprons from the '50s, $6 to $10; and a steel worker's box from about 1900, $78.

Fiesta Ware is still in production, Schneider says, but she only stocks the dishes from the '20s and '30s. "People seem to like the colors from back then."

Schneider also has about a dozen chenille quilts, ranging from $40 to $200, and lots of carefully salvaged furniture, linens, toys, and other knickknacks. A sign saying "You've got flowers!" sits atop an old mailbox that has been converted to a planter. A flatiron from the 1920s now functions as a doorstopper.

In a tiny back porch area, Schneider has created a garden filled with potted plants in old steel bins, vintage Coca-Cola wooden crates, and vases made from jelly jars, lard cans, and coffeepots. Prices start at $10.

Schneider loves researching the history of her treasures. She says she and her buyers, some of whom live on the East Coast, spend hours at auctions and yard sales, chatting with those parting with their antiques. She also looks for clues to an object's age, such as its type of soldering (which told her the steel worker's box was made around the turn of the century).

"You can earn your own degree in history doing this!" she laughs. "And I think most everything here has a soul, a function in our lives."

Nifty Vintique is open Friday through Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Other days Schneider will open by appointment, and hours may be expanded during the summer.

This month's Store Trek was written by Heidi Anderson.