| February 2012
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By Tim Innes
Urban Migration. After six years on 24th Street, Heather Bruchs and her dog Bill are shuttering their store and searching for a new Nest in Palo Alto. Photo by Pamela Gerard
“Businesses come and go; we’re in constant flux,” says Gallery of Jewels owner Bill Hoover, who’s seen plenty come and go in his 22 years on 24th Street.
Despite the long odds—the majority of startups go out of business within five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration—entrepreneurs with big dreams keep coming to Noe Valley.
“This is a really good neighborhood,” said Hoover, who also owns jewelry shops in Pacific Heights and Union Square. “People here have been very supportive. That takes some of the anxiety out [of running a business].”
Not that business people—and the community that supports them—aren’t nervous.
“We are slowly starting to see some improvement with each year since 2008. [But] it is surely the slowest and most anemic recovery I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” said Carol Yenne, owner of Small Frys on 24th Street for more than two decades. “There is not the [consumer] confidence that we would normally see after a big recession, that we have hit bottom and that things will be going up.”
Despite the challenges, Noe Valley shop owners remain, for the most part, hopeful.
True, 2011 wrote the final chapter for neighborhood fixtures Cover to Cover Booksellers and the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. The year also saw the demise of gelato shop Tuttimelon, J & J Grocery, Joseph Andrade Floral, the new-agey Cosmic Wizard, and clothing boutique Vivon. Specialty bicycle seller Bespoke pedaled off to larger digs in Pacific Heights. And Liz Nash, recovering from breast cancer, closed hair salon Hot Headz after a 30-year run.
The new year will see more closures, beginning with the country French–style Urban Nest, which hung up the “Moving Sale” signs the first week of January. Owner Heather Bruchs said sales fell off after Bell Market closed in the depths of the recession three years ago and never rebounded. A resident of Woodside, Bruchs said she hopes to re-establish the six-year-old business in nearby Palo Alto.
Also feeling the effects of the sluggish economy are Swatdee Thai Cuisine, which stopped serving lunch at midyear, and Joe’s 24th Street Cafe, which went on the block in November.
Parade of New Faces
But for every departure, it seemed a new business sprouted up. Two Birds hatched in February in the Castro Street space vacated nearly a year earlier by Cooks Boulevard. Co-owner Audrey Yang said the women’s apparel shop had “a good Christmas. We’re developing a core group of customers who like to shop locally. I like this neighborhood.”
Other newcomers included Heroine, which caters to new mothers and babies, in the old Bespoke space at 24th and Castro; Walkershaw Man, which carries hand-tailored menswear in a tiny 24th Street storefront; and Cliché Noe, a gift shop that opened Nov. 25 in the 24th Street space previously home to the Mystery Bookstore. Proprietor Dani Sheehan-Meyer said “cliché” is a typesetting term and should not be construed to mean “old and tired. We’re new and vibrant.”
Sheehan-Meyer, whose husband’s family has owned the property near Diamond Street for more than a century, said, “Christmas was great. We sold out of a lot of items. It’s a mistake to think a business won’t succeed this far west of Castro. There’s a lot of foot traffic up here.”
Coming soon are Philz Coffee, in the 24th and Douglass space vacated by the Animal Company when it moved into the Castro Street storefront previously occupied by Cover to Cover; Opes Advisors, in the space vacated by Andrade Flowers; the Children’s Playhouse at Noe Valley, in the old Vivon space; Noe Valley Wine Merchants, in the old Urban Cellars space; and Akai Saru, where Tamasei Sushi used to be.
In addition, things are looking up for the previously struggling Phoenix Books across from Whole Foods.
“I think we will be okay—this holiday season things finally kicked in for us,” said owner Kate Rosenberger, who also owns two bookstores in the Mission and another in Bernal Heights.
And in early January, Nash of the former Hot Headz reported she had found a new salon to share, Good Hair Day at 1750 Church St.
But the fate of the Radio Shack store at 4049 24th St., which was displaced by a two-alarm fire Sept. 10, remains cloudy. Reconstruction of the badly damaged building is continuing—slowly.
And there is little news on the Real Food Company space across from Whole Foods Market. It has stood empty for more than eight years.
Going forward, stores can meet the Amazon challenge by offering unique products at competitive prices, says Small Frys’ Yenne. But the long hours with little to show for it can exact a heavy toll.
Yenne said many of the merchants she talks with “are exhausted from trying to hang on” and worry that the economy “won’t turn around fast enough or strongly enough to make hanging on worth it. They are just tired out.”