Noe Valley Voice February 2005

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce two shops that blossomed a few months ago on Church Street: a body, beauty, and baby emporium called Church Apothecary; and a designer bridal studio named Cynthia Blue Couture.

Church Apothecary

1767 Church Street between Day and 30th streets


Church Apothecary, the small shop that replaced Nifty Vintique on outer Church Street last fall, has a green neon cross above the door--the international symbol for pharmacy. So it's no surprise that the emporium sells Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, and Robitussin (anything short of prescription drugs).

But Church Apothecary is not a drugstore in the mold of Walgreen's, or even Rexall. "It's really more about skin care, hair care, and bath products, with a special focus on bath care products for children and babies," says Kati Kim, who with husband James opened the shop in mid-October.

The quaint "apothecary" in the name is meant to harken back to an era when the local druggist not only wrote prescriptions but made his own pills and tonics. "I have homeopathic remedies, medicinal teas, and a lot of natural cold and flu care remedies and wellness vitamins," says Kim. "The direction I'm moving in is to have a very good collection of vitamins and supplements for the whole family, as well as bulk organic herbs."

In designing the store, Kim, a former French teacher, drew inspiration from pharmacies she'd seen in her European travels. She also looked for ways to compliment the other small businesses in the Church and 30th Street commercial hub. "This neighborhood has an old-fashioned feel to it, with the butcher shop and the cobbler. I wanted something old-fashioned that was useful but also beautiful."

The shop's clean white walls are lined with blond, wood-grain cabinets and shelves, and the aisles are purposely wide to accommodate baby strollers. One side of the store is devoted to baby goods, such as Boiron remedies for teething and colic and Tushies biodegradable diapers--$13 for a pack of 30. Pull out a display drawer in one of the cabinets and you'll find a collection of sea sponges ($2 to $14). Pull out another and you'll run into fun things like panda, cow, and piglet nailbrushes ($3) and a frog hot-water bottle ($16).

Opposite shelves display adult bath and body products, such as Bergamot shoulder patches ($15) by Naturopatch Essential Oils offering "stress relief throughout your busy day." There are moisturizers and body toners by Germany's Dr. Hauschka, and in the near future you should be able to pick up lotions and cosmetics by the San Francisco's Zia Natural Skincare. "They used to have those at Real Food," notes Kim.

A bag of 100 Organic Essentials cotton balls costs $3.75, and a British Mason-Pearson hairbrush goes for $115, but most of the health and beauty products fall in the $10 to $30 range.

Kim hopes Church Apothecary will become a convenient place for Upper Noe neighbors to buy sundries like aspirin, shampoo, toilet paper, "organic" tampons, and even condoms (LifeStyles, $2.40 for four). The store also offers gifts, cards, and children's books, including the popular Miffy's series of coloring and counting books ($7.99).

The Kims, who live nearby on Randall Street, are determined to reflect the needs of the community by stocking whatever people tell them they should. "We write down every suggestion," says Kati Kim. "And in the last month or so, in response to customer requests, we've been reducing the prices on some of the basic commodity items."

She and her husband also run Doe, a clothing shop in the lower Haight, and they have a little girl, Penelope, who is 21/2. With a toddler and two stores, the couple are flying at hyperspeed these days.

To help with their own stress relief, they've hired several part-time employees, including Alice Cotton, Monica Magtoto ("she's the daughter of Felix Magtoto, the neighborhood's UPS man"), Sarah "Curly" Cuthbertson, and Charlene Wright. Wright used to work at Elephant Pharmacy in Berkeley, a health and wellness drugstore. Kim says, "They're all well informed and will be glad to help you out with the products." She will be, too.

Store hours for Church Apothecary are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

--Doug Konecky

Cynthia Blue Couture

French Bridal and Evening Gowns

1881 Church Street


"Most brides tell me that this was the easiest part of planning their wedding," says bridal gown designer Cynthia Ewers. From her Church Street studio, Ewers creates wedding gowns from start to finish, paying meticulous attention each step of the way.

"I take 37 measurements," Ewers says, "because I like to get a thorough reading." After measuring, she sketches a pattern and sews a muslin mockup of the dress. Then she asks the bride-to-be to come in for fittings. "It takes about five or six months to finish it, and I tend to have her in for fittings as we go, because that saves a lot on alterations at the end."

Far from the madding crowd of the big-name bridal salons, Cynthia Blue Couture ("I just loved the way the word 'blue' sounded--really, that's it!") is located in a sunny cottage tucked under Ewers' Victorian home, near 30th Street just up the hill from Church Produce. She and husband John spent two years renovating the studio and opened it last July.

"Our house was built in about 1910," says Ewers, "and we learned from several neighbors that the space below was actually a blacksmith's shop." In fact, John found a wagon wheel under the house during the remodeling.

The new studio space is airy and modern, and filled with windows draped in chiffon. A huge gilt-frame mirror dominates the fitting room. In a large work area drenched with light, customers can pore over Ewers' two design portfolios. An over-sized closet nearby holds 23 gowns, ready to try on.

"I've learned over the years to watch the bride as she looks at each one, and can tell by when she lights up which gowns fit her personality," Ewers says.

Ewers began in the clothing business after graduating with a bachelor's degree in fashion design in 1976 from the University of Wisconsin, Stout. It was on a trip to San Francisco, for of all things a wedding, that she and her then-boyfriend John decided to quit their jobs and move to California.

"I worked for a while selling clothes for the Clothes Rack, and for Koret, in quality control. Then I decided I liked manufacturing better than retail." She designed Joan Walters sportswear for a while. Then in 1991 she went back to school.

"I was looking for an evening draping class when I ran across Simone Sethna, the haute-couture designer from Paris," says Ewers. "And it was like snap! I knew I had to study under her."

A year or so later, she opened her own business designing and sewing women's suits and bridal and evening gowns.

"Back then I used to have Girls' Night Out with friends, and we'd come to Noe Valley a lot, and I always loved this neighborhood," says Ewers. In 1997, she and her husband, who is project manager at U.C. San Francisco, bought a fixer-upper on Church Street. She ran her business from the front part of the house until the studio was completed last summer.

Ewers often designs gowns from scratch, reflecting her clients' personal tastes, fabric preferences, and price range. But just as often her customers choose a design from Ewers' collection of samples, such as the demure "Bella," the regal "Mystique," the simple "Romantique," or the glamorous "Melissa," a gown designed for a woman who wanted to evoke a Ginger Rogers­Fred Astaire feel on her wedding day.

Her bestseller is the "Bianca," with its empire waist, scoop neck, spaghetti straps, embroidered tulle, and split skirt in the back that opens into a train. "It looks good on absolutely everybody!"

Prices on the handmade gowns range from $1,800 to $4,800, with most costing about $2,300. An initial visit takes about 90 minutes, she says (for the 37 measurements).

For those brides-to-be who need a wedding dress in less than six months, Ewers says she'll be carrying some readymade styles starting in February.

"I'm going to add five new styles from an English collection. They're beautiful, all-silk gowns, and they're a little more moderately priced--$1,300 to $1,800."

Cynthia Blue Couture is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Drop-ins are welcome, or you can arrange for a private appointment.

--Heidi Anderson