Noe Valley Voice July-August 2003

Rumors Behind the News:
A Few Pimples on the Face of Noe Valley

By Mazook

THE GROCERY BLUES: Efforts to save Mikeytom Market, which included petitions from more than 800 neighbors and news coverage on Channel 7, turned ugly last month after store owners Mike Meischke and Tom Maravilla vacated their popular supermarket on June 5, finishing a 10-year run. Once the storefront (at Church and Day) was empty, vandals wasted no time in breaking the glass on the front door and etching "Xs" in the plate-glass windows.

(If you missed the story in last month's Voice, what happened, simply, was that Mikeytom's lease ran out after they failed to come to an agreement with the building's landlord, Peter Kung, who had raised the store's rent from about $3,000 to $7,500 per month.)

Then came some "vicious anonymous phone calls, after hours," to the 24th Street Cheese Company's answering machine, on the apparent assumption that owner Charles Kung was in some way connected to the Mikeytom building. According to cheese shop manager Nancy Ford, Charles Kung is the brother of Peter Kung. "He has absolutely no connection with his brother's business affairs. When their mother died years ago, she gave one property to Charles [the Cheese Company] and the other to Peter [the building at Church and Day]."

"It's very upsetting to me that people call and say bad things and threaten to boycott my business," says Charles, "especially when my brother and I went our separate ways [in business] years ago."

"We phoned the police about these calls," Nancy added. "I was shocked that people would act this way."

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WHAT THE MARKET WILL BEAR: Meanwhile, Peter Kung is also upset that he was being blamed for the departure of Mikeytom.

"This is business, and there is nothing personal at all," Peter stated in late June. "When I rented the place 10 years ago, the monthly rent for the 2,400-square-foot main floor and a basement the same size was very low. It was $1,750 a month for the first five years, and then an option for another five years with a cap of $2,500 per month, which was way below market rate. And then three years ago, [Mike and Tom] were negotiating to sell their business, and the buyer offered me $5,500 per month. This was acceptable to me, but [the prospective buyer] also wanted an option period with a rent cap and terms which I couldn't agree to. I would again have been locked into below-market rent, so there was no new lease," Peter explained.

"I didn't want Mikeytom to close. I just wanted to raise the rent to a fair market value, after giving them 10 years of very low rent," he said.

After Peter's lawyer sent Mikeytom the $7,500 rent increase notice, Peter says he attempted to compromise with a monthly rent of $6,250. But Mike and Tom held firm to their offer of $5,000 per month. Negotiations broke off, and Mikeytom Market was history.

Mike Meischke says he and Tom are very sorry things did not work out. "We are looking into other opportunities now. If you have a lemon, then you have to make lemonade."

Meanwhile, Peter Kung is in the process of hiring a real estate agent, who will hang a "For Lease" sign in Mikeytom's scratched window in the near future. Then Kung will learn the true market value of his property.

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EVERYBODY'S A STAR: Rumors about what's going in at Star Bakery have been running wild in Uptown Noe Valley. Star Bakery, which opened 115 years ago on the corner of Church and 29th streets, closed in 2001, and for the past two years, the space has been allegedly leased to a Starbucks (totally untrue), a Krispy Kreme donut outlet (good idea, but absolutely not true), a restaurant (see below), and finally, to Mikeytom Market (wishful thinking).

The latest buzz is that somebody wants to open a cocktail lounge called "Star Bar." They've actually made inquiries to the SFPD and sent feelers out to people in the neighborhood to see if there would be opposition to a liquor license application--which of course there would be.

Richard Beale, a real estate agent representing the site's owner, told the Voice at presstime that "the restaurant deal is definitely off the table, and so we are back to square one." Square one would be that Star is still available at $5,900 a month for approximately 2,200 square feet.

"I am getting about five calls a day on this property, and right now we have some serious interest being expressed by a fitness studio. [Also], a consulting firm is interested in putting offices there, as well as some people who would like to open a cocktail lounge. But right now there are no offers on the table," Beale says.

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HONEY, I SHRUNK THE BABY STORE: Natural Resources has a big "For Lease" sign in the window at 1307 Castro Street (near 24th), its home for the past 10 of its 13 years in Noe Valley. This baby clothes shop and childbirth center, which rode the crest of the 1990s baby wave, is well-known around the Bay Area for its mommy classes, workshops, and support groups.

"We have decided to downsize our retail operation and focus more on being a resource center," says owner and chief mom, Lisa Moresco.

She's not closing the business, Lisa says. But she's actively looking for a smaller space in Noe Valley with a smaller rent. "The rent where we are now is high, and the economy is down, so we have to make adjustments," she says. "We are going to focus more on our classes and cut our retail items by 50 percent."

The sign on the door has given birth to one of the biggest rumors flying around the neighborhood these days--that Cover to Cover might pack up its bookstore at 24th and Church and move into N.R.'s Castro Street space. We can't confirm it, but that doesn't mean we're not knitting baby booties. (See this month's front page for the official Cover to Cover news.)

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HONEY, I BLEW UP THE BOUTIQUE: Lisa Violetto Designs is expanding and moving operations downstairs at 1414 Castro Street, just one block up from Natural Resources (near Jersey).

Noe Valleon Lisa Violetto has been quite busy these past 22 years, designing and creating jewelry and doing home design as well. For the past 10 years, she has been doing a lot of home staging, too. She is the one the real estate brokers hire to dress up residential property which is going on the market at a price that requires an attractive presentation.

Lisa and her longtime Alvarado Street neighbor Judy Frangquist are now teaming up to offer a retail store selling home furnishings, some antiques, gift items, and Lisa's famous line of jewelry.

According to Judy, the two have been talking about the store idea over the back fence for quite a while and they finally got a chance to do it. "I'm very excited about this," Judy says, "and I think the neighborhood will be, too."

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SHORT SHRIFTS: Local patriot Harry Aleo is shaking his head these days that not a single merchant on 24th Street accepted the offer he posted in his Twin Peaks Properties window: to give them an American flag in celebration of Flag Day (June 14), on the condition they put it in their store window.

"With the Fourth of July coming, you would think that some of our merchants would display our flag," grouses Harry.

Now he's stuck with a bunch of flags he ordered from Arkansas. If any of you merchants (or residents) have had a change of heart--especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on privacy rights for homosexuals--you might want to stop by Aleo's shop on 24th near Castro and ask him very politely for a flag.

One person who might want one is our SFPD bicycle constable, Officer Lorraine Lombardo, who is back on patrol after a couple of months out on disability--for injuries she sustained in this spring's anti-war demonstrations. But Lorraine probably won't be waving flags. She's going to have her hands full, what with all the thefts and break-ins we've had in the neighborhood lately.

The Noe Valley Ministry, the Presbyterian church and community center at 1021 Sanchez, has installed a new security system after suffering four late-night break-ins in the past two months. According to Ministry spokesperson Ramon Sender, the first burglary netted the thieves five bucks in a donation can, the second a diet Pepsi, and the third about $40 worth of food gift certificates handed out to the homeless. The fourth time, unfortunately, the thieves absconded with equipment used by the Noe Valley Music Series for its Saturday-night shows in the upstairs sanctuary.

In other religious news: Noe Valley's first synagogue, Chabad of Noe Valley, opened a new storefront center in May on 29th Street near San Jose Avenue. Rabbi and founder Gedalia Potash says he is conducting services for "anywhere from 15 to 50 people, primarily at our Saturday-morning service," which previously he had been holding in his home. For the past three years, Chabad has held a popular annual Hanukkah service on the corner of 24th and Noe.

A native of London, England, Rabbi Potash came here three years ago, after spending six years in New York. "I am quite excited by all the progress we have made here in Noe Valley," he says.

He invites all of the neighborhood to visit Chabad at 94 29th Street (821-7046), and enjoy the Library of Jewish Books he is creating.

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DESTINATION NOE VALLEY: The popular Italian restaurant Lupa (24th near Castro) was featured in a Bill Daley review in the San Francisco Chronicle last month. Special praise went to appetizers like the Bosc pear stuffed with mascarpone cheese and wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto.

The only problem was that the headline read, "There's Much to Like About Lupa in the Castro." I'm sure the locals had a laugh over that one. Luckily, the paper caught its mistake and printed a correction the next day. Lupa surely didn't mind the extra publicity.

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Y AND WHEREFORE: Potential big news in the neighborhood is that the YMCA is again looking for a site in Noe Valley, this time to house a "wellness and physical fitness center." YMCA board members and community representatives have formed a task force to locate a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot facility in Greater Noe Valley. That, my friend, will be no small task.

Nonetheless, the Friends of Noe Valley has become involved through its vice president, Marybeth Wallace, who is one of the eight people on the task force.

"I think that if we look at this creatively, maybe it can be done," says Marybeth, "but we need help. We need community involvement and input, so that we can come up with a solution that would add even more to our wonderful neighborhood."

If you have a facility or are interested in brainstorming, Marybeth wants you to call her directly at 561-1478.

Marybeth, by the way, recently stepped down from her position on Rec and Park's Open Space Advisory Committee. She says she took great pride in getting $6 million allocated for improvements to Day Street Park (from the $110 million Open Space Bond passed by voters in 2000). She also pushed strongly for the dog run at the park, which she says is now going to be permanent.

As for her leaving Open Space, she says, "I spent a lot of time on the committee, and with all the other things I am doing, it was simply too much time and work."

Good luck with the Y, Marybeth. It's going to be another workout.

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LUNNY BUSINESS: Here's a tiny update on the development being proposed for the Lunny House located across from Bell Market at 3953 24th Street. As you will remember (see the May issue), the plans call for demolishing the existing structure and building a four-story complex with six residential units for low-income seniors, and two or three commercial units, with no off-street parking.

The developers met with local residents and neighborhood groups on several occasions, and listened to their concerns about the appearance, height, and bulk of the new building, as well as the absence of parking.

Paul Kantus, president of the East & West of Castro Club, reports that his group received the revised plans at the end of May and he and the neighbors are feeling pretty glum. "After three meetings, [the developers] made only very small changes in the original plans they showed us. This design is totally out of sync with the character of our neighborhood."

The plans have been submitted to the Planning Commission, and a final shootout (public hearing) will likely take place on Aug. 25.

Will we save the Lunny House? Will Starbucks move into Mikeytom? Will Cover to Cover become a Natural Resource? Did someone move the cheese? You'll have to wait till September. We're out of here.