Noe Valley Voice March 2004

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

TOWN HALL HOOPLA: Our new rock star, Mayor Gavin Newsom, held his first town hall meeting in the heart of Noe Valley at James Lick Middle School on Saturday, Feb. 28. The town hall was set up in order to give residents within District 8 a chance to meet and direct questions to their city representatives.

Since the meeting took place after our deadline (and with less than two weeks' notice), local reaction will have to appear in next month's issue of the Voice. If you attended the meeting, write or e-mail us with your thoughts.

However, the rumors at press time were that it was going to be a mega-media event and that the producers of CBS-TV's 60 Minutes II had dispatched a crew to cover the Gavin love fest.

Word was that Newsom would arrive at the town hall shortly before 11 a.m. After the two-hour meeting, he was to walk through Downtown Noe Valley and have lunch at Joe's 24th Street Café, on the corner of Vicksburg Street. Restaurant owner Joe Eadeh was quite excited about the plans, and when I inquired what he was going to ask the mayor, he said, "Mr. Mayor, what would you like to eat?"

Scheduled to appear at the town hall alongside Newsom and co-host Supervisor Bevin Dufty were Acting Chief of Police Heather Fong, newly-appointed Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, District Attorney Kamala Harris, Muni boss Frank Burns, Department of Health Director Mitchell Katz, and practically every other department head in the city. State Rep. Mark Leno was also expected to show up.

I bet a couple hundred gay newlyweds were also on hand and the event turned into a massive celebration.

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NO REAL FOOD IS A REAL DRAG on our 'hood's main drag. According to many local merchants, there has been a dramatic drop in foot traffic on 24th Street since the Real Food Co. closed its doors on Labor Day, "for remodeling." The coincidental closing of stores adjacent to Real Food has created low morale for both merchants and shoppers, and even prompted a (false) rumor that a giant developer has bought all the properties and is going to demolish them and build a monster something-or-other.

Still, there has been a real drop in revenue for some merchants, and many are scrambling to meet their overhead.

"My business has been down 15 to 20 percent since Real Food abruptly closed," says Susan Lytle, who with her partner Julie Tessener operates Wavy Footprints children's shoe store. "The only surge in foot traffic has been on Saturdays when a lot of people come down to the farmers' market," she says.

As you might know, Wavy Footprints recently moved its shop next door into Lit'l Lizards' old space. Lytle explains, "In order to increase sales, we now not only sell children's shoes but also have added gifts, toys, and clothing. The extra business from those items has thankfully kept us afloat; otherwise, we were worried about closing."

"Our business has definitely dropped since Real Foods shut down," says Panetti's Gifts owner Marjory Panetti. "I never realized how many people came to the neighborhood to shop at Real Foods.... I sure hope Real Foods reopens soon, and in an amicable way for its workers, so there are no bad feelings."

Jan Swearingen, manager of Common Scents, says business at that venerable store is down 20 percent since Real Food went dark. "We think that a lot of our customers are now shopping at Rainbow, which is where I am grocery shopping now," says Swearingen. "We are definitely on a tighter budget now."

Ann Wolfe, who works at Joshua Simon, says, "The big drop in foot traffic is making everyone nervous, especially when so many people are asking you what is happening up the street, and we can't answer them because we don't know what's happening ourselves. This has a huge impact on the morale of everybody on the street."

Down in the next block at See Jane Run Sports, manager Emily Buck says, "Our business has been tougher during the week, but things have been great on Saturdays since the farmers' market seems to be drawing a lot of people." See Jane Run is right across the street from the Saturday market (held in the parking lot recently built by the Noe Valley Ministry).

Pam Byars, owner of the Ark toy store at the corner of 24th and Vicksburg, agrees with Wolfe that morale has reached a low point. "The block [where Real Food was] is all boarded up now and looks blighted and depressed, and customers from around the Bay Area that come into my Berkeley store and who used to come to Noe Valley tell me that they are here [in Berkeley] to shop because '24th Street is no fun anymore.' They want to know why so many businesses are out of business."

Of course, anyone who read Corrie Anders' article in the last issue of the Voice knows that the south side of the 3900 block, across from Bell, is merely in transition. Some shops lost their leases, and others failed the Darwinian test, but most spaces are on the verge of being filled by fresh new businesses.

Tien Fu is gone, but the Peruvian restaurant Fresca is coming in. Artsake by the Just for Fun people is opening in Wavy Footprints' former spot. Lit'l Lizards is still in business on the Internet. Workwear has moved to Bernal, but the same owners run Cotton Basics up on the corner of 24th and Castro. Ambiance women's boutique is expanding into the Workwear spot, and when I visited Ambiance on a Saturday last month, there were more shoppers packed in there than I would see in the Real Food produce section all week.

The Lunny house, which has been boarded up since the last century and a blight on the 3900 block, will be demolished soon, and construction of a new housing and retail complex started. New people will move in and be a part of the community. Life goes on.

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ART OF THE DEAL: Colorcrane has gone out of business and is looking very shabby, with the "For Rent" sign hanging in the window. However, a new occupant is imminent.

Some of you may recall that Colorcrane was first opened circa 1974 by artist Margret Maker and the late Tom Crane, who would skateboard down the Noe hill each morning to open the doors to his popular art supply and copy shop. He sold the store to the current tenants, who got less artsy and more eclectic as the years went by. Now, after two decades, they have decided not to renew their lease.

According to Bill Talmage of DeWolfe Realty, who represents the landlord, "We've had a ton of interest in the store, which has 1,600 square feet. The owner is asking anywhere from three to four dollars a square foot, for anywhere from three to five years, with an option for another three to five years, as is. We would be willing to make rent concessions depending on what improvements were contemplated."

Talmage, by the way, represented the owner in the previous lease negotiations 20 years ago, and wants to assure everyone in the neighborhood that "the owner wants a small business in that location that is in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, and from what I know, is willing to keep the rent affordable for a small business to operate profitably."

Talmage says that over half of the would-be renters want to open a restaurant, "but I told them they would have a big use-permit problem and that there was a moratorium on restaurants on 24th Street. The other half are primarily health, beauty, and clothing businesses," he notes. "We currently have some people who are very serious about renting, and who I believe the neighborhood would find more than acceptable, but I can't comment beyond that at this time."

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GOING, GOING, GONE: Sorry to see Dharma close. Bad timing, I guess. They were at 24th and Sanchez less than a year. That spot is still for rent--high but negotiable. Maybe someone will open a kitchenware store like the one that was there in the '80s (the Pantry).

And sorry to see the home furnishings, artifacts, and decorator shop Toko Imports (24th near Sanchez) closing its doors after a five-year run. I got some nice stuff there, notably some wooden monkeys. According to owner Ralph Thuler, "Business has been down for the last two or three years," and he would prefer to leave, now that the lease is up. Once upon a time, Cover to Cover was in that spot.

I will have to read the front page of this issue to find out what is going on with the Real Food Company. Clearly, everyone wants it either to bring back the workers and the bountiful racks of fresh produce, and soon, or else sell the place to someone who will.

Maybe the farmers' market can open up permanently in Mikeytom's old spot at Church and Day streets. It's still unoccupied, and rumors have been confirmed that the owner is now willing to accept $3,900 per month.

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TURNING PAGES: Noe Valley is also in danger of losing its beloved Phoenix Books and Records, which has been at the corner of 24th and Vicksburg since 1985. When Cover to Cover recently sent out pleas to the community and went through a reorganization, Phoenix was one of the biggest supporters and monetary contributors to the Save Cover to Cover campaign.

Phoenix owner Kate Kanaley Rosenberger posted a notice in her store window in February, asking customers to sign a petition of support. She said her landlord had put her store on a month-to-month basis and that she was "scrambling to keep Phoenix in the neighborhood." She added, "With help from you, and perhaps some divine intervention, we will be able to maintain."

According to Rosenberger, nearly 500 people signed the petition in less than a week and local community activist Peter Gabel has gotten involved. Gabel confirmed that he is looking for a solution to what seems to be on the horizon for Phoenix: a notice that it will have to change its venue. I hope things work out, so we can avoid losing a great bookstore.

That's all, you all. Go buy a new or used book to reward yourself for voting in the California primary March 2.