Noe Valley Voice July-August 2003

Remembering Yacoub Louh

By Laura McHale Holland

On the afternoon of May 20, the two parking spaces in front of St. Paul's Market at Sanchez and 29th streets were empty, a sight usually seen only on Wednesday mornings when the streetsweeper chugs by. The market's newspaper racks and vending machines were behind locked gray doors instead of on the sidewalk. The only thing moving near the deserted entrance was the green and white "ATM Machine Available" sign, flapping in the wind. The store's regular customers knew this could only mean one thing: Yacoub "Jack" Louh was dead.

Louh became the proprietor of St. Paul's Market in 1974, about a year after he, his wife Laila, and the couple's five children moved to San Francisco from the now-Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Louh had also owned a market. At the Sanchez Street store, Louh presided behind the counter from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week until 1991, when after a bout of heart trouble he turned the store over to his two sons, Yousef ("Joe") and Elias ("Alex").

Despite having had two heart bypass operations, the last one in 1995, Louh was very active in his retirement, and delighted in spending time with his 11 grandchildren. He visited the store on weekends and enjoyed reconnecting with his old customers, as well as swapping stories with people new to the neighborhood. He would stroll down Mission Street seeking bargains at vegetable markets, often picking up little gifts for neighborhood children along the way. But when his health began to fail earlier this year, the sight of Louh holding court while sitting on a milk crate outside the store became rare, and Yousef reported that doctors would likely be unable to operate successfully again.

Louh passed away at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, surrounded by his family. Hundreds of mourners, many from Noe Valley, attended both his memorial service at Duggan's Serra Mortuary on May 21 and his funeral on May 22, at St. George Church, also in Daly City.

For the first six years that he ran St. Paul's Market, Louh, Laila, and their children lived in the flat above the store. Laila also worked the counter right beside Louh. Four of their brood, Souzan, Yousef, Saida, and Elias, attended McAteer High School. Then the couple bought a home in Daly City, and their youngest child, Suha, finished school there.

Born on Nov. 25, 1930, in the town of El Lid in what used to be called Palestine, Louh had two goals as a youth: to own his own business and to be a good husband and father. He thrived at both, even after having to flee his homeland when war broke out in 1967. His five sisters and three brothers also emigrated--all of them to Jordan, except for one brother who settled in San Francisco.

Louh was able to return to the Middle East only once, in 1998. And from all accounts, he was thrilled to be reunited with his siblings and to meet his many nieces and nephews.

Though the culture of his native land was jarringly different from that of his adopted home (his very happy marriage to Laila was arranged by his parents, for example), Louh had no trouble relating to his many customers at St. Paul's Market.

"My dad liked all kinds of people. He treated everyone the same, with respect," says Yousef. Son Elias adds, "He knew everybody's name and nickname, what kind of candy the kids liked, and what kind of jokes. He made people comfortable, and if something wasn't right, if something was bothering someone, he could tell, and he'd do something to make them smile. He taught me a lot, everything."

The only barrier Louh encountered, recalls Elias, was language. A native speaker of Arabic, he found English difficult to master. This frustrated him because he wanted to understand all the tiny nuances of what his friends and neighbors were saying.

Still, Louh expressed great affection for his little corner of Noe Valley, and many will remember him as an honorable man with a warm and generous spirit.

Laura McHale Holland has been a patron of St. Paul's Market since 1985.