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THE BIG BUZZ in Noe Valley last month was the online mayhem created by two stories in the San Francisco Chronicle. The first article (Jan. 7), by freelancer Anna Marie Hibble, was provocatively titled, "Noe Valley: Only for Strollers Made of Gold." The second, published a week later by Chron columnist Robert Selna, had the news: "Blocks Hungry to Fill Storefronts with Eateries."
Hibble's piece talked about the high home prices in our neighborhood and our snobbish, entitled attitudes. According to Hibble, some nonNoe Valleyans are reluctant to come to the neighborhood because they fear "being shoved aside in the Cheese Shop by the more determined hand of a young mother intent upon that Dutch Edam sample for the mouth of her squalling child."
Selna covered the Planning Commission hearing on Jan. 14, and the current neighborhood debate over repealing limits on the number of restaurants, food-service, and to-go businesses that can open in Downtown Noe Valley (see Corrie Anders' front-pag e story).
You can see Selna's and Hibble's stories by googling "Noe Valley" or going to www.sfgate.com.
When you get there, scroll down to the bottom and see the hundreds of comments by readers (185 re stroller s and 294 re the food issue). Evidently, out there in the blogosphere, our quaint little hamlet is an object of scorn.
Don't get me wrong. There were many Noe Valleyans and others who came to the defense of the neighborhood.
But most comments ranged from petty to pretty ugly. Here's a sample:
"Noe = Neighborhood Overflowing with Easterners. Like many precious parts of the city, Noe Valley has become just another conversational bauble to flash for the carpetbagger clique that has infested SF."
Try this one: "Those huge baby SUV strollers are almost as obnoxious as the people pushing them."
How about: "I can only assume that the arrogant, elite, narcissistic, self-indulgent, overpaid, and functionally illiterate, selfish people who do not need to live in Noe Valley they simply l ike to associate with others like themselves."
Then there was: "This is the only neighborhood where women push baby strollers while talking on the cell phone and don't look both ways before crossing the street AND give attitude when someone calls them out for being so foolish. They expect everyone to stop. Sure, it's the law, but what about that one driver who is distracted?"
Someone else wrote, "Who the hell would want to live in Noe Valley? I grew up here and I had not heard of it until 1997. Wasteland as far as I'm concerned."
Another labeler called us "Snobaholic Annonymous [sic]."
This anecdote was a real zinger: "Around 1996, I was having a conversation with a building contractor who said he was turning down Noe Valley clients. I asked him why he didn't like the neighborhood. His reply: "White mothers."
And then there was the comment hurled at this Voice columnist for being a "busybody," which I take as a compliment, by the way.
To echo longtime Noe Valley resident (former Chron icle writer and current Voice contributor) Tim Innes, "Does it mean you have arrived when you become an object of scorn? As for me, I've yet to be menaced by a latte-crazed, cell phone-yakking, stroller-pushing yuppie."
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E-MAILS BOMBARDED Castro Street bookstore Cover to Cover last fall, when the shop was mentioned in another Chronicle story (Nov. 19), by Steve Rubenstein, headed, "Bay Area Not Maverick Enough to Read Palin Book."
Pointing out that there were no copies of Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue at Cover to Cover (among other independent bookstores) the week it was released, Rubenstein quoted Cover to Cover staffer Emily Stackhouse as saying, "Anything like that we wouldn't carry.... We're a small store and it would probably gross us all out."
Stackhouse says Rubenstein misquoted her on the "gross" part. "What I said was the reason we were not carrying the book was because we are a small store and that it wouldn't sell that well in our neighborhood. "
"Oh boy," says Cover to Cover co-owner Mark Ezarik. "After that came out, we started getting e-mails from across the country, and some were very nasty, calling us things like 'book burners' and accusing us of censorship.
"For me, it was a business decision, not a political one," says Ezarik. "We would have been selling the book for $25 when you could have picked up the book at a box store for as little as $5."
At last count, the number of comments on SFgate.com on that story was 794.
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BLOG JAMS, CONT'D: In December, I reported that SFGate.com had established a special Noe Valley blogspot last September, as part of its S.F. Neighborhoods coverage. Well, the Noe Valley Blog has now gone "poof." All stories, including the most recent one about Whole Foods' opening, have been removed, along with the reader comments.
Says SFGate news director Vlae Kershner, "Yes, it has been disabled for the time being, and we are still looking for [freelance] bloggers."
Meanwhile, as yo u neighborhoodies know, Noe Valley has a plethora of alternative sources for blogging and tweeting--blogspots and websites to keep us moving down the information highway between issues of the Voice.
One place that has a ton of stuff is the www.everyblock.com site. There you can get Noe Valley news, real estate listings, permit applications, police incidents, etc., plus all the pictures locals post on the Internet. Everyblock now has started publishing "Valuepak" coupons, which Everyblock calls "local deals." Listed on Jan. 27 was a $3 discount at Haystack, $3 off a dinner combo at Hamano Sushi, and $1 off any meat burrito at Casa Mexicana.
Another is the NoeValleySF blog (noe valleysf.blogspot.com), self-described as "a hyper-local guide to Noe Valley--with attitude." While somewhat snarky, the blog keeps the news coming and has a neighborhood posting wall.
An interesting item on NoeValleySF in January was a "Reader Rant: Dogs Need Places to Poo, Too." It generated 50 more r ants and raves on Noe Valley doggie etiquette. Remember, there may be as many dogs in Noe Valley as there are children. OMG.
NVSF also linked us to the January New York Times story on the top 10 Netflix movie rentals for 2009 in zip codes in 12 major metropolitan areas, including San Francisco. The results for Noe Valley's 94131 and 94114 should be no surprise: Doubt and Milk were at the top. Other Netflix hits in our zips were Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Rachel Getting Married, Burn After Reading, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
The Times story prompted me to ask our neighborhood store Video Wave (on Castro above Jersey) to report on its top 10 movie rentals in 2009. Owner Gwen Sanderson says first-place honors went to Burn after Reading. Then came Vicky Cristina, Slumdog, Rachel, Grand Torino, Doubt, The Reader, Milk, and in ninth place, Revolutionary Road.
"Outside of those top Oscar titles, I would al so include Tell No One, I've Loved You So Long, and Let the Right One In, all of which are remarkable foreign films," says Sanderson.
Also, we had high rentals of Julie and Julia, Frost/Nixon, Pineapple Express, and He's Just Not That Into You. The most wanted TV videos were True Blood, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and, of course, Mad Men.
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HEINZ, HOSTESS & HAMBURGER HELPER: There is no doubt what the neighborhood thinks of our newest grocery store. The lines of customers at the checkout stands at Whole Foods on 24th Street have been long, healthy, and organic, from the minute the store opened Sept. 30. Says store team leader (manager) Melanie Holt, "Business has been very good, and this store is in the top five in California for sales per square foot." Holt adds there is especially high demand for "spices in jars, bread, bottled water, toilet paper, and cloth bags."
It would appear that since the arrival of Whole Foods, there also h as been an uptick in business for other Noe Valley stores, including the venerable Shufat Market (24th and Church).
"Oh yes, for sure we have seen a rise in sales of many items," says Shufat's Omar Khalil. "The first that comes to mind is Progresso and Campbell soups, then Kellogg's cereals, Pepperidge Farm cookies, the original flavor A-1 steak sauce, lots of Best Foods mayonnaise, Folgers, and Taster's Choice coffee, and Stouffer's frozen dinners, and also much more Windex and Reynolds Wrap."
Could these possibly be items not found at Whole Foods?
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STORED DRECK: At last count, Downtown Noe Valley had nine vacant stores. The owners of the storefronts that once housed Phoenix Books (corner of 24th and Vicksburg) and Streetlight Records (24th near Noe) want to sell their buildings, and each is asking over $2 mil. The Real Food store has been closed, vacant, and not for sale or rent since 2003, and it seems it will remain so forever. The other retail stores for rent would be the sp ace where GNC was; Riki's old space, where the owner has done some foundation and remodeling work; the space on Diamond vacated by Just Awesome Games; and of course the storefront across from Whole Foods just vacated by Artsake. The last two vacant spots are both restaurants, Bistro 24, which is closed and still for sale, and the spot where Mi Lindo Yucatan restaurant was. That space is currently under construction with a "For Rent" sign posted by Retail West. The Chron used a big picture of that sign to illustrate the aforementioned restaurant story.
The owner of the Artsake building, Joel Coopersmith, says he is willing to rent the 900-square-foot space for $3,000. He says he has received "a couple of calls, one of which was a proposed nail salon."
As for the new restaurant space offered by the owner's agent Retail West, it appears that the construction will be finished by June and ready for occupancy, according to Retail West broker Matt Holmes.
"We have excavated and extended the ground floo r back to the property line, increasing the 1,200 square feet to 3,000. The rent is based on $4 per square foot, which adds up to $12,000 a month. That may seem high," says Holmes, "but for restaurants in this city, the rent is only anywhere from 5 percent to 12 percent of the total [monthly expense].
"We have had about 30 telephone calls inquiring about the space in the past few months, but what we are looking for is a restaurant that is chef-driven, which we find can be very successful," says Holmes. That could be said about any of the popular DNV dinner spots.
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HAMSTRINGS & OFFSPRING: The store vacated by Cary Lane, next to Shufat Market, has been transformed into Cardio-Tone. The new place is offering a very Noe Valley combination of services: exercise programs and classes, and childcare on an hourly basis.
Store founder Rachel Aram and her husband moved to Noe Valley two years ago from Miami, Florida, where she was a CBS TV local news reporter. Before that, she was a fitn ess instructor.
"Since I have moved to Noe Valley, I have had two children and now started this business doing what I love to do. We have seven types of adult fitness classes and seven kids classes, and we provide childcare while the parents are taking their classes," she says. "We also provide hourly care if the parent or parents want to go shopping or out for a meal in Noe Valley."
The childcare providers are staffed by a licensed childcare agency, Wondersitter, and the hourly rates are $6 when the parent is in the class, and $10 when the parents are offsite.
"We chose Noe Valley, after looking all over the city. to live in and then looked at every empty store, and this was the place," she says, "and since we have moved here, we feel so much community support and how friendly everyone is."
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HISTORY IN THE MAKING: Noe Valley's most prolific author, Bill Yenne, has been attending many book-signing parties these past three months. His newest release is a non-fiction book, Tom my Gun: How General Thompson's Submachine Gun Wrote History. Then there's Convair Deltas: From Sea Dart to Hustler, the true story of an airplane that made Air Force history, and a novel, For God and Country (written under the pen name of Jerome Prescott), about a military chaplain in Iraq.
Yenne, who settled in Noe Valley in 1974, will release in April yet another epic military biography, titled Alexander the Great. The foreword is written by retired Army general Wesley Clark. Yenne's book has also been favorably reviewed by John Negroponte, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Negroponte describes Yenne's latest as "an excellent survey of Alexander's exploits and a vivid reminder that the geopolitical landscape hasn't changed that much over the millennia."
Says Yenne: "Alexander's empire was the largest the world had yet seen [in the fourth century B.C.]. It was nearly as large as the Roman Empire, which took two centuries to build to the point that it took Alexander to build in 12 years." Alexander died at age 32.
Although Yenne will not say exactly how many books he has written or compiled--we all have his San Francisco Then & Now and San Francisco's Noe Valley, and maybe even his recent hit Sitting Bull--he admits that the number is now over a hundred.
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THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD is mourning the loss of one of our most beloved residents, Helen Weinschenk, who passed away on Jan. 19 at age 98. Helen and her husband Arthur moved to Noe Valley in 1949 and bought and operated a shoe repair shop called Mission Renewal, located where Ambiance is now. They lived in an apartment behind the store. Arthur died in 1964, and Helen continued on as the shop's cobbler until 1977, when she sold the business to Barry and Patti Wood, who renamed it the Wooden Heel. The shop moved to its current location on 24th Street near Castro in 1981, and the Woods sold the business in 2002. Helen worked at the Wooden Heel until retiring in 2004 at age 92.
Patti Wood describes Helen as "the kindest person you will ever know--she never had a bad thing to say about anybody. Her business ethic was, simply, the customer is always right."
Our neighborhood historian, Bill Yenne, wrote a tribute to Helen back in 2002. In it, he noted, "Some days it would take Helen a couple of hours to walk the two and a half blocks from her apartment on 24th and Sanchez up to St. Philip's Church. It was not that she wasn't a fast walker--no, actually she was quite speedy (and a great line dancer). It was because, as Helen would say, 'When I walk down the street, there are so many people who wanna say hello.'"
Bye-bye, Helen. And ciao for now, Noe Valley.