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AS WE MARCH from Fat Tuesday to April Fool's Day, the NVBI is still unsure who, when, and whether somebody will be taking over Bell Market on 24th Street. As you may recall, the store was among the nine Bell/Cala stores in San Francisco that the Ralphs grocery chain, headquartered in Compton, Calif., put on the chopping block last fall.
Ralphs, which is owned by the supermarket giant Kroger Co., is apparently quitting the grocery business in Northern California, and has been closing or selling off stores throughout the area.
Meanwhile, our neighborhood leaders and politicians, along with the mayor's office, have been salivating to have a say in the future of our local Bell (see last month's front-page story in the Voice), but their efforts thus far have proved fruitless, and vegetableless, too.
Local groups, led by Friends of Noe Valley, had planned for five local grocers to attend a community meeting on Feb. 16 and make presentations about their dreams to acquire Bell's spot. But only one--Mikeytom Market--showed up, so Mikeytom got the groups' endorsement to "make an offer" to Ralphs.
However, when Friends of Noe Valley President Richard May informed Richard Hillis from the Mayor's Office of Economic Development about the consensus of the meeting, Hillis, who was already lobbying on behalf of the Noe Valleons, replied that the lettuce was wilting.
"According to the representatives at Kroger/Ralphs, they are not 'accepting' new offers, and they are negotiating with a potential buyer," wrote Hillis to May via e-mail. "That does not mean that Mikeytom or any other operator cannot submit an unsolicited offer."
Hillis went on: "Unfortunately, Kroger/ Ralphs will not provide us with a bid package or any other documents that might help guide an offer, so I may not be much help in crafting a proposal."
Clearly, that warm and cozy meeting of around 50 friends and neighbors on Feb. 16 was not reflective of the cold, hard reality: Decisions regarding Bell's future are being made elsewhere, and Noe Valley is way far down on the food chain.
In February, the Cala at Geary and Fourth Avenue was shut down and Ralphs' grocery workers in the Sacramento area were given notice that their stores would close by April.
This caused major uneasiness among the staff at our Bell, as workers from other closed Ralphs stores began being transferred to 24th Street. But when local leaders made contact with the owners of the Bell building, the owners reportedly said no prospective buyers had contacted them about taking over Ralphs' lease, which is set to expire in three years.
Then, in mid-month, several new faces appeared in a group of business folk taking a tour of the 24th Street store. While there is still a wall of silence surrounding Bell's fate, rumors are now rippling through the neighborhood that the "potential buyer" is that group of investors seen walking through the store. The tour group was headed by grocer Harley Delano, and the rumor mill has it that he and his group will be taking over most, if not all, of the Bell/Cala stores still remaining in Northern California.
Delano, who lives in the East Bay, would be no stranger to Noe Valley (or the site's landlord), since he headed the company that purchased the business from the original Bell owners in 1989. He then merged Bell with Cala Markets, and 10 years later sold the whole bunch to Ralphs/Kroger.
If this deal were to go through, it would be a big relief to our local crew, whose fate has been hanging somewhere between Mikeytom and Mollie Stone. Many of Bell's current employees and their union, UFCW Local 648, worked under Delano's old regime.
Attempts to reach Delano for comment were unsuccessful.
By April Fool's Day, we should know if we're back to Sunnyside Farms for a while. What will happen when Ralphs' current lease is up in 2009 is anybody's guess.
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GREAT BATTLES IN HISTORY: There was a tug of war over the Noe Valley Archives at the beginning of February, between its primary donor, Paul Kantus, and the San Francisco Public Library.
As you all know, the Noe ValleySally Brunn Library on Jersey Street is closed for remodeling. Everything in it had to be moved out by the last day of operation, Feb. 11, including our neighborhood's historical archives,which is a collection of old photos and artifacts started about 25 years ago by the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club and the Friends of Noe Valley.
In preparation for this day, Kantus met with library staff last year and informed them that he would be removing the materials and storing them at the Diamond Street offices of local author Bill Yenne during the library's renovation. However, when Kantus arrived at the library on Thursday, Feb. 2, to remove the memorabilia, it was gone.
Kantus says he was quite surprised, so he quickly got on the phone to Yenne. Soon they determined that the mementos had been packed up and carted off to the Main Library's History Room. Both Kantus and Yenne then became very upset and made demands for an immediate meeting with City Librarian Luis Herrera.
By the following Monday, Kantus and Yenne had rattled everybody in City Hall so much that a meeting was set up for Wednesday. But later that Monday, Herrera called Kantus and told him that all the materials would be returned.
"He said that he would have the seven boxes of materials delivered to me and that he was sorry about the misunderstanding," says Kantus. "Herrera said words to the effect that he didn't want a revolution out in Noe Valley."
Finally on that Wednesday, the Archives were returned to Kantus, in care of Bill Yenne's office, by two painters from the Department of Public Works, who said the Main Library had asked them to drop off the boxes on their way to a painting job.
No hard feelings from Kantus, though. He's just happy to have the stuff back in the neighborhood. "Two authors are coming by next week to look through the material, one of whom is doing a history of the Irish in San Francisco," he says.
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THE LOWDOWN ON UPTOWN: Speaking of Mikeytom, which we were, notices are up in the window of the store's former location on Church and Day, that an application is being made by Church Day Solutions LLC for a beer and wine license for "an eating place." The notice was posted on Feb. 22, which means that after almost three years of vacancy, building owner Peter Kung has finally agreed to take on a new tenant.
"We are very pleased that the store has finally been rented," says Upper Noe Neighbors President Vicki Rosen. "When I talked to Peter Kung, he seemed to indicate that it was going to be some kind of café, so finally it will be occupied."
The other big Upper Noe news is that Verona Restaurant at Church and 30th is closing after a 20-year run. Andy Kapiniaris and his wife Mimi are retiring and turning over the keys to Massimiliano Conti and his wife Natalina Dogan from Sardinia. They'll be reopening the restaurant with a new menu that features personal gourmet pizzas and, according to Kapiniaris, "lots of interesting wines."
Meanwhile, Kapiniaris says that he and Mimi are going to Greece for a much-needed vacation. "And when we come back, we are going to spend a lot of time with our children. I have very mixed feelings about leaving the neighborhood, after spending so much of my time here, but new blood is good, and I will come by and visit."
Another new restaurant is rumored to be moving into the space vacated by Long Island Restaurant on Church near 29th Street. Word is the menu will be decidedly French.
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THE MENU AT KOOKEZ CAFE will be decidedly American. This new eatery opens March 1, filling the space vacated in January by Miss Millie's Restaurant at 24th and Castro.
Kookez (pronounced just like Famous Amos's) will serve "coast-to-coast American cuisine," like Boston Clam Chowder, Frisco Bay Burgers, Texas Tri-Tip, Bayou Butter-BQ Dippin' Shrimp, Maine Seafood Linguini, Old-Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, and Georgia BBQ Baby Back Ribs.
These culinary delights are the creation of Noe Valley resident Lynn Marie Presley, who was a regular at Miss Millie's.
"I come from four generations of café owners and chefs, and I wanted to create a unique dining experience for the neighborhood," says Presley (no relation to The King). Dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9:30 p.m., and on Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday is family night, with kids' specials on the menu. Kookez is also serving weekend brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Down at the other end of 24th Street, Matsuya sushi restaurant has closed after nearly 30 years on 24th Street. Its owner, Fusai Ponne, has retired. The sign on the front door says that the space "will reopen next month," but it's hard to tell which month that will be, since the sign is now two months old.
Matsuya, the first sushi palace (or rather, nook) in Noe Valley, has a devoted following, and many residents will consider its passing a real loss.
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OF FROCKS AND HAIRS: Changing hands is Peek-a-Bootique at 1306 Castro, which has been a mainstay for kids' wear in Downtown Noe Valley since 1990. Paul and Barbara Morgan are passing the tiny jammies and snuglis to Linda Russell and Mike Stanton, who have remodeled and reopened the store.
Says Paul, "After 15 years, the time was right to sell. The kids have all grown up, so we decided to move on and relax for a while."
Alicia Elliott has closed her Bamboo hair salon on Diamond near 24th Street, to spend more time with her family. In her wake will come a new group of haircutters, over the waves.
Here's wishing Noe Valley barber Mike Skoufas a speedy recovery from the surgery he had last month. Skoufas started cutting hair around here in 1952, and now shares a shop with his daughter Stephanie, Of Barbers and Bears, just up 24th Street from Castro.
Stephanie says she will keep up with her dad's appointment calendar while he is out, so if you haven't gotten an answer to your Monday calls to Mike, call Stephanie during the rest of the week.
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BLING IN THE NEW: Making a big move in Downtown Noe Valley is jewelry designer Gilbertina Guarini. She's expanding Qoio from the tiny studio and retail store below Artsake, across from Bell, to a much larger space up the street, closer to Castro. The new store will occupy the site of Cottage Industry (with the rickshaw out front), which was once upon a time the home of our old post office.
She and her husband, Bruno Guarini, bought the place last month, and marked everything 50 percent off. "It will take us a few months to liquidate all the stock from that business, so there are some good bargains," Gilbertina says. "Then we will be remodeling the store exclusively to display my jewelry. All of my work is original and one-of-a-kind." The new Qoio will have a garden in the back, with trees, fountains, stone buddhas, and places to sit. "It's going to be beautiful. If a woman is looking at the jewelry in front, perhaps her husband will like to go have tea in the garden," says Gilbertina.
Almost 10 years ago, the Guarinis opened an import shop on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, "where we have done quite well," says Bruno. "Over there my wife started making jewelry, and we found that it became very popular with our customers, so she decided to open her own studio in Noe Valley. She has found a growing clientele for her works, so we are expanding."
Bruno says everything in Cottage Industry is up for sale except the rickshaw. "I originally imported that piece for them [Cottage Industry] when they started, and it is one piece I want to keep."
The couple say they are very excited about being able to work in the neighborhood where they are raising their two daughters, Natalie, 7, and Kirsten, 10.
"I love Noe Valley," says Gilbertina. "We will still maintain the studio, which has an apartment and a back yard, and our kids will be going to school close by at James Lick Middle School. They can walk over to the store after school."
Qoio, in case you wondered, is the Mayan god of the moon.
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THAT'S THIRTY for March. It was 25 years ago that I wrote my first Rumors column, in the March 1981 edition of the Voice. That makes me somewhat archival. The back issues of the Voice have been taken downtown to the Main Library for safekeeping, so if you want to read that first column, or the first Voice in 1977, you can hopefully find it in the History Room at the Main Branch.
Back in '81, life in Noe Valley was so simple. One of my first items was a list of comments dropped in the suggestion box at Herb's Fine Foods (e.g., "More jus on the Roast Beef au Jus"). Another was the question: Why is the Noe Valley Market in Eureka Valley?
Well, Herb's, the Noe Valley Market, and Rumors Behind the News are still in the same places they were 25 years ago. Are we all going back to the future, or forward to the past?