Noe Valley Voice February 2010

Store Trek

By Karen Topakian

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce a budding plant and garden supply store on Church Street and a title company on 24th boasting a 103-year-old pedigree.

Independent Nature
1504 Church Street at 27th Street

Thinking of growing your own food? There's a store in the neighborhood that would love to get you started along the garden path.

Independent Nature, a plant nursery that opened in October at Church and 27th streets, specializes in native and drought-tolerant plants and herbs, and edibles such as artichokes, lettuces, and kale. In addition to the gardening basics, the shop carries recycled tools, pots, garden books, soil, and a small selection of houseplants.

Part of the store's interior space is shared with the When Modern Was furniture store; both shops occupy a former garage and back yard that was once home to the popular Mia's Flowers.

Owner Susan Prentice brings 30 ye ars of professional gardening experience to her first retail business, along with a desire to make "gardening accessible to all of us."

"Lots of people are growing gardens for the first time," Prentice says. Her goal is to help them see "you can grow food without having a whole farm."

Prentice says she and staffer Kathleen Manly, who comes with prior nursery experience and a degree in ecology, are pleased to give planting tips at the shop. In addition, they offer home garden design and consultation services.

Many of their new customers have decided to start small, Prentice says, by purchasing items like a $2.69 pot of mint. (She chalks it up to the "mojito craze.")

With a focus on California native plants, Independent Nature stocks some unique varieties, including Ribes sanguineum, a native currant with bright pink flowers ($7.99 in the one-gallon size). "This great, mid-sized shrub is under-used in the home garden," says Prentice.

Because she wants "to connect people with sustainability," h er shop sells no chemical fertilizers. What she recommends instead is organic compost--your own or a product such as E.B. Stone Organic Compost ($7.99). "Seaweed is another organic fertilizer."

She chose Noe Valley for her store location because "the neighborhood was a good match without being too trendy.

"It's a sunny site," says Prentice, and sunlight was one of the things she needed to grow vegetables or plants in a small garden plot behind the store. "You can create shade but not sun," she laughs.

Prentice, who has a horticulture degree from City College, also teaches organic gardening. In December, she held a class on habitat growing for Noe Valley's Butterfly and Bee group (see Short Takes). Her next class, on spring planting, will be offered in March.

Prentice also stocks honey and plants that attract bees and other pollinators.

Though Independent Nature doesn't have its own website, Prentice maintains an email list for customers and those interested in taking classes.

"All of a sudden everyone is speaking my language, growing their own food, being self-sufficient," says Prentice.

Independent Nature is open daily except Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Prentice plans to extend the shop's hours in the spring. Her email address is independent

Old Republic Title Company
4045 24th Street at Castro Street

The recent arrival of Old Republic Title Company on 24th Street completes the constellation of real estate services offered in Noe Valley.

In a bright and spacious office at 4045 24th Street formerly occupied by the automobile service club AAA, a staff of eight now provides title, escrow, and real estate services for residential and commercial buyers and sellers.

Old Republic, a 103-year-old company based in Minneapolis, Minn., relocated its local branch to Noe Valley from a third-floor space at Market and Duboce streets on Nov. 1.

"We looked for two years in Upper Mar ket and Noe Valley. This place was ideal because of its proximity to real estate offices and banks. We're right next door to Wells Fargo," says Old Republic Branch Manager Chris Matthews. Old Republic is the only title company in the neighborhood, according to Matthews.

The state-regulated firm acts as a neutral middle man between buyers and sellers--holding funds and documents for the two sides until real estate transactions are finalized. It also offers notary services.

Matthews says most home buyers or sellers are referred by real estate agents. However, in the two months since the company opened in Noe Valley, "many people have walked in off the street with questions. Walk-ins are possible because there are people available--escrow officers and assistants, sales and customer service representatives."

Senior Vice President Bonnie Manning says the company experienced a good year in 2009.

"Old Republic's numbers [of closings] are up for last year, particularly during the last half of last year. We a re still strong in the refinance market and re-sale," she says.

The firm plans to strengthen its ties with the local community by joining the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association.

Old Republic is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.