Noe Valley Voice October 2005

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

FRESH LITIGATION: In the waning days and nights of September, the lights went back on in Real Food Company and a new set of building permits was slapped on the store window. The permits allowed work on the premises starting Sept. 12, and listed the "completion date" as March 2006. Completion of what wasn't specified, however. What also wasn't made clear was whether Real Food Co. would reopen on 24th Street in this century.

As most Voice readers know, the once-thriving natural foods store has been vacant for two years, due to a Series of Unfortunate Events. The saga began in February of 2002, when Fresh Organics Inc., a subsidiary of the Utah-based Nutraceutical Corporation, purchased Real Food from the grocery's founders, Kimball and Jane Allen. A year and a half later, on Labor Day Weekend (otherwise known as the Labor Day Massacre), Fresh Organics suddenly dismissed the workers and shut down the store, ostensibly "for remodeling."

The closing led to disputes between the Allens and Fresh Organics--as to who was going to pay for what during the remodel, and what structural repairs actually needed to be made--and between Fresh Organics and the Real Food employees, who complained to the National Labor Relations Board about their abrupt termination.

The labor issues were aired in an NLRB hearing last spring in San Francisco (see April Voice). The two sides in that case are still awaiting a decision.

Meanwhile, the dispute between Fresh Organics and the Allens has wound up in San Francisco Superior Court. In June, Fresh Organics filed a complaint against the Allens, alleging things like "breach of written lease," "negligent misrepresentation," and "rescission of purchase agreement." The company also asked for damages of "at least $2.65 million."

The Allens objected strongly to the complaint, and the court sustained some of their objections and denied others. Now the couple have responded to the amended complaint (which they received in August) by filing a cross-complaint against Fresh Organics, alleging the same kind of wrongdoing as their rival. For their part, the Allens are seeking damages in the sum of $161,000, for allegedly unpaid rent since May of 2004. (Fresh Organics' rent was $9,500 per month until May of 2005, and $11,000 thereafter.)

Next up on the court docket is a hearing Oct. 18 on Fresh Organics' objections to the Allens' cross-complaint. After that, there's a "case management conference" scheduled for Nov. 4, to see if the matter can be set for jury trial, which is being demanded by both parties. Court-watchers estimate the jury trial will start in the spring of 2006.

Locals are wagering that Glen Park's new Bi-Rite will open its doors before Noe Valley's Real Food can lay down the paint cloths.

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FOR WHOM THE BELL FOLDS: The fate of Bell Market is still the subject of neighborhood rumor and speculation after a story in last month's Voice reported that Kroger Corporation (aka Ralphs) was trying to shed its Northern California operations, which include 20 Cala/Bell stores.

In the months following the closing of Real Food, Bell gained a lot of local respect by responding quickly to neighborhood demands for organic produce. So the thought of a potential change (Longs Drugs, for instance) sent shivers through the local populace.

The buzz in August was that the high-end Mollie Stone's was interested in the deal. Then, in September, the rumor was that Piggly Wiggly, a porky chain based in the Southeast, was eyeing our Bay Area Bells.

Well, the Voice snoops couldn't get Ralphs' bigwigs to confirm either rumor. However, if it's any consolation, a representative of the 24th Street Bell's property owner said our request for confirmation was the first time they'd even heard the words Piggly Wiggly. And the property owner would know, trust us.

Another rumor, unrelated to Bell, has proved to be true: Albertsons supermarkets--over 2,300 of them--are up for sale. Seems to be a buyer's market for markets.

Meanwhile, Bell customers will be delighted to learn that Ralphs has brought back Noe Valleyan Enrico Fornesi as store manager. Fornesi, born and raised in the neighborhood, has been a Bell employee for a long time (way before Kroger acquired the Bell chain). He was promoted to manager after Ralphs took over the store in the mid-1990s. A couple of years ago, the chain transferred Fornesi to another Bell. (Ralphs used to have a corporate policy of regularly rotating managers among their stores.)

The very popular Fornesi is tops in customer service, and will be happy to handle your customer requests and pass all your prickly-wiggly questions up the chain of command.

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IT'S A REC: Renovations to the Upper Noe Recreation Center will be the topic at an Oct. 6 community meeting sponsored by the city's Rec and Park Department. The meeting will convene at the rec center on Day Street at 6 p.m., and run until 8:45.

First on the agenda will be a presentation on the revised layout for the dog play area at the back of the park. Upper Noe resident and city architect Paul Travis says the revisions focus primarily on the designs of the entrances to the dog run. Travis worked on the original plan for the dog run, which opened earlier this year.

After that, the San Francisco Arts Commission's Public Art Program (PAP) will introduce Troy Corliss, the artist who has been picked to create a work of public art for the rec center, which will be undergoing a major overhaul sometime in the next couple of years. (The project is supposed to go out to bid in April 2006, with construction starting in October 2007.)

Corliss--who is from Woodland, Calif., and who was selected from among 27 candidates by a panel of six neighborhood residents and a "visiting artist"--will give a slide show of his work and talk about his conceptual design for the art at the rec center.

To get all the poop on Upper Noe's renovation, call the project director, Keith Kawamura, at 581-2546.

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DAY STREET PARK is what they used to call Upper Noe Rec Center back in the 1950s. If you grew up in that era, you might want to attend a reunion of "the old gang" on Oct. 8 at the Irish Cultural Center, 2700 45th Avenue.

"We were a group of kids that hung out at the Day Street Park in Noe Valley in the '50s," says one of the organizers, Pat Ormsby, who now lives in the East Bay. "Most of us girls attended St. Paul's High School, and the guys attended Riordan, Sacred Heart, St. Ignatius, Mission, Poly, and Balboa.... Many marriages happened in the group, and we still get together every five years" for a big party in San Francisco.

Ormsby says there will be about 200 people at the reunion, including spouses and partners. To find out the details, give Ormsby a call at 510-490-2344.

It is terrific that these neighbors have maintained contact all these years. They have even installed a plaque in the park, where they list the names of those in the group who have died.

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I'M OAK, YOU'RE OAK: A project is under way to rescue a century-old Norfolk Island pine standing in the back yard of a house on Sanchez Street near 24th. According to the leader of the tree-protectors, Tracey Hughes, this gem is "almost 100 feet high, has a canopy of at least 60 to 70 feet, and a trunk that is 33 inches in diameter."

Evidently, a developer bought the 19th-century house with plans to demolish it and build a number of units in the front. Though the owner was going to keep the back yard, says Hughes, his schematics appeared to squeeze out the tree.

"I was worried when I noticed that this tree, that I have looked at for the past 21 years I've lived here, was not in the plans sent around to the neighbors, although it was on one of the drawings at the Planning Department." After she complained, the developer hired an arborist, who recommended a 33-foot-radius zone, measuring from the trunk, to protect the tree's root system.

Hughes says she collected 178 signatures from people who wanted to save the tree, which even at 100 years old has a future life expectancy of 50 or more years. She says she was motivated because "our neighbors know that this tree is part of our heritage. It cleans the air of all the diesel exhaust on 24th Street near our corner, it provides an incredible amount of privacy, it is an amazing bird sanctuary/habitat and an endless source of beauty and wonder. Hopefully, it will still be there when the kids at the Noe Valley Ministry Nursery School grow up."

Maybe we should save the 19th-century house, while we're at it.

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BABY, YOU CAN SHARE MY CAR: City CarShare, which offers car pickups at two Noe Valley locations (Walgreen's and the Noe Valley Ministry parking lot), is facing competition from a Boston company called Zipcar.

According to Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith, his business decided this summer to expand its hourly car-rental operation to San Francisco. Zipcar already had programs in Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

The cars rent for $8.50 per hour for up to 125 miles. There are no up-front deposits, and the price includes fuel.

The first nine Zipcar locations in San Francisco were unveiled last month, and they're spread all around the city. But at press time no pods had yet been located in Noe Valley. However, Griffith says his team is on the lookout for a spot, and is holding discussions with the owners of the Noe Valley Ministry parking lot on 24th Street. Right now, the closest Zipcars can be found at 15th and Market, and 16th and Guerrero. If you hurry and make a reservation online at, you'll get $25 in free rentals.

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NOTICE ANY NEW TOWERS AROUND? Many Noe Valleyans were surprised to see a Cingular cell phone ad in the San Francisco Chronicle in August, announcing new antenna sites in "Noe Valley, Nob Hill, and Cow Hollow."

The Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation is reporting that there are currently micro-cell antennas on buildings located on 24th Street at the corners of Sanchez and Castro. The nearest Cingular tower is at 17th and Castro.

The NVBI is asking those of you who are aware of other cell phone towers or antennas to contact the editors of this paper as soon as possible.

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STYLES CHANGE: Noe's Nest, a popular bed-and-breakfast at 23rd and Noe, has closed, but owner Sheila Ash will recreate it at 1257 Guerrero Street. "We have applied for the permits and hope to reopen next year," she says.

Ash, who has run the B&B for the past 18 years, is currently concentrating on "catering to kosher clients and providing hospice care for plastic-surgery patients." For the past five years, she's run a personal services business called Rent-A-Mother, for people in need of someone to shop, cook, and clean for them.

Ash is also a fashion designer, and has a wardrobe that includes more than 150 hats. She prides herself on the fundraising fashion shows she sponsors, and she was recently featured in the Asahi Japan Weekly. The paper described her as a styling consultant for older women who is a "role model of living and dressing in a way that turns heads wherever you enter a room, whatever your age."

Also on the move is secondhand vintage clothing store Guys and Dolls, which is relocating its burgeoning business from 24th near Church to the 24th and Castro corner where Graystone Wine & Liquor used to be. Graciela Ronconi, born and raised in Noe Valley, has operated Guys and Dolls for the past 11 years. (Vintage clothier Always and Forever was in the storefront for 12 years before Ronconi took over the business.)

New to Noe Valley is the Calliope Dance Studio at 1414 Castro (where Lisa Violetto Designs used to be). Calliope offers creative movement and ballet classes for boys and girls.

New to Noe Courts is Danny's Cleaners, on the corner of Elizabeth and Douglass, where Noe Courts corner grocery store once did business.

And there's a new business opening at 3492 22nd Street called Fireboat Gallery.

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DEAR MIRIAM: A gathering of more than 50 people attended a memorial at the Noe Valley Ministry for longtime neighborhood activist Miriam Blaustein, who died in June at the age of 91.

Noe Valley resident Eleanore Gerhardt is now working to make sure that Miriam's name lives on forever on a plaque at the Noe Valley­Sally Brunn Library, an institution she loved and fought to save back in the 1980s and '90s. "We are planning to name one of the display cases in the newly renovated Noe Valley Library for her," says Gerhardt. And to that end, she and other Friends of Miriam are raising the necessary $2,500.

If you would like to help, call Gerhardt at 826-0522.

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THAT'S ALL, YOU ALL, and enjoy October's Native American summer in Noe Valley, while it lasts. See you at Harvest Fest.