This Quiet Valley

Noe Valley is a home. It’s safe, familiar and, most of all, a community. The shops on 24th Street, the commercial corridor, is a hub for people all around the city to stroll around the boutiques and cuisine, but what I’ve noticed most is the people aren’t from all around the city. They’re residents and families going out running errands and other everyday tasks. What makes Noe Valley different from the other districts in the city is its appeal to those who want to settle down. When someone moves to Noe Valley, it’s for a while.

There is everything a family needs in Noe Valley. Groceries, clothing shops, bars, parks and more. The restaurants are as diverse as the families living in the neighborhood and they are all high end genuine cuisine like La Ciccia, a Sardinian restaurant. The parks consist of dog parks and playgrounds to accommodate the families in the neighborhood. The Whole Foods is right in the center of the neighborhood and is constantly busy with the parking lot traffic leaking out onto the two way 24th Street. So what am I doing here? What brought me here?

I chose Noe Valley out of curiosity. I’m usually in the Mission district and occasionally fall into the Castro but never in between. I just never knew what was there. My initial impressions on the district were pretty general. All I saw were houses and one bustling street. Now, I still see that.

The houses are the stereotypical San Francisco houses, making the most out of the limited space while still being creative in architecture. They remind me of the tract housing of the suburbs I grew up in down in Southern California, but with more character. The tract housing feeling comes with the abundance of the families. There are strollers everywhere and the kids are all relatively young, from newborns to toddlers. Parents are young, maybe in their late 20s to mid 30s.

And that was the divide.

I am 23 years old and I hardly ran into anyone my age. This neighborhood isn’t the most attractive for 20-something college student who is looking for a lavish nightlife and the late night burrito joint.

This neighborhood is the place to settle down and raise a family. Well, if you can afford it, with the average single family home going for at least $1.4 million according to the Noe Valley Voice. A bit out of my range as a college student.

Noe Valley is a beautiful place with its hills and views. I love walking around the neighborhood and just admiring the quiet streets. The neighborhood is a quiet place and in a city known for its fast pace and blooming business opportunities, a place to relax is more than welcome.

NWNV talks to Shoe Biz

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San Francisco is a walking city. Anything like groceries, clothes, food is all within walking distance. With all that walking, shoes can get worn out. That’s where Shoe Biz comes in. This San Francisco native business opened their doors in 1979 in Haight and have opened five stores since. They specialize in brands such as Onitsuka Tiger, Reebok and Puma and even opened an Adidas concept store, showcasing limited product lines. What makes the Noe Valley location unique is its inventory that caters to the residents of the neighborhood, stocking a variety of kids shoes. I interviewed employee Tania Parks about what makes the Noe Valley location the shop to make a trip to.

How long has Shoe Biz been open in Noe Valley?
This store has been around about six or seven years.
What has been the experience in Noe Valley do far?
It’s probably one of the best neighborhoods in my opinion. People are really friendly, lots of family, lots of dogs (laughs). That’s what I love. We do love dogs. It’s a really chill environment, really relaxed and a just really friendly nice place to work.
Has the shop ran into any issues with the neighborhood?
Not really. That says something about Noe Valley. That’s pretty good that I’ve been here for about a year and I can’t think of a single thing wrong with Noe Valley.
What makes this shop unique compared to the other locations?
Our inventory caters to the Noe Valley crowd. It’s a little more relaxed environment than the other stores. The other ones could be more hectic. It’s a very specific clientele. There’re more tourists in the Haight and over here is a little more local scene. It’s nice because you get to establish relationships with the customers here. Here’s a bit more neighborhood-y. More personal.
If you can describe Noe Valley in two words, what would they be?
Very precious. (laughs) For better or worse.

Shoe Biz Noe Valley is located at 3810 24th St. and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit their website.

Building a cultural hub

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The diptych murals on display on 24th Street depict the past and the present of Noe Valley.

The sepia tones of the past show the neighborhood at its infancy with trolleys driving alongside of Studebaker cars. The vibrant colors of the present show a neighborhood brimming with life through festivals and music.

On a Saturday, one can look up at these murals and appreciate the history and celebration of Noe Valley while enjoying the weekly farmer’s market. On any other day, appreciation is hard to come by when the murals overlook a nearly empty parking lot.

The lot is the future site for the Noe Valley Town Square. The town square will convert the 9,350-square foot parking lot into an open space for the neighborhood to host the farmer’s market more often, movie nights, concerts, meetings and any other community event. The project has been in development for about two years, with consistent community meetings to further refine park design concepts and to strengthen the support for the project.

Though planning future developments is an important focus for the project, raising funds to start development is a more pertinent concern.

“Time is more of the essence now,” Todd David, president of neighborhood association Friends of Noe Valley and co-leader of the town square project, said.

David, along with co-leader Chris Keene and other members of the project committee members, have been trying a non-traditional capital campaign that encourages pledges in smaller accounts, family donors and finds other potential donors without including a membership list.

In order for work on the property to get started, the city must purchase it too.
The lot is privately owned by the Noe Valley Ministry. The farmer’s market started after the sudden closing of the Real Food Company store in Noe Valley. The first location of the farmer’s market was at the ministry and later, after ministry sponsorship, the market moved to the 24th Street parking lot, its present location. Since the ministry is in need of some renovations, selling the lot is beneficial to both parties involved.

However, the city won’t cover for all of the costs.

For the $3.6 million price tag of the property, the city released the Open Spaces fun, which covers half the cost of the property, giving the community the role of raising $1.8 million.

The ministry has held off selling the property for six months to give the community time to raise the funds needed. David and the project committee didn’t want to just raise enough to but the property. They want enough to convert the lot as well. Total needed: $3 million.

“What dollar amount can demonstrate to the church that we have the chops to raise the money?” David said.

The project committee isn’t alone in looking for the right donors.

The San Francisco Parks Alliance is working on the project as “fiscal sponsorship,” according to Meredith Thomas, director of policy and stewardship.

In order to help raise the $3 million, the SFPA turned the project into a non-profit organization, giving donors a tax deduction, and also making the project a legal charitable entity. The SFPA helped the project committee connect with the right channels in the city government for more support like with the Open Spaces fund.
As much help as the SFPA provided, Thomas said the project committee started out ready to go.

“They [the project committee] were pretty right away with the planning,” Thomas said.

Planning is easy when the support comes along.

David said the support of the project was pretty unanimous among the merchants and community.

“Though you can’t get everyone to agree, this has been the least controversial project I have ever worked on,” David said.

President of the Noe Valley Merchants Association Robert Roddick said the majority of the association believe in the project, but have to cope with the loss of parking.
Converting the lot will result in losing 29 parking spots from the 110 spaces in the commercial quarter of 24th Street, according to Roddick. The Merchants Association was initially disappointed with the original park design concepts since the designs eliminated all parking spots, but they worked with the project committee to try and save any parking.

The Merchants Association have struggled to gain parking in the commercial quarter, according to Roddick, who said, throughout his career of 30 years in various associations, has gained four parking spots for Noe Valley.

“We need parking and no one will give it to us,” Roddick said.

As for the town square, Roddick said the Merchants Association still supports it and personally, thinks a park is a better idea than condos in the space.

David and the project committee are still on their way to raise the $3 million and excited to be involved in creating a cultural hub for Noe Valley.

“This is a very exciting project for me,” David said. “I’m honored to be involved in something permanent for Noe Valley.”

The diptych murals have time stopped for Noe Valley. The culture is vibrant in its painted details and the present is colorful through the community. The town square will hopefully make up for any time lost.

Mark Pastore’s Quintessential Noe Valley Restaurants

Being unfamiliar with Noe Valley, I sought to reach out to learn about the neighborhood in my favorite way, eating.

I recently saw Incanto on Anthony Bourdain’s show “The Layover” so I figured they should know their way around the neighborhood’s restaurants. Mark Pastore was nice enough to email me back about Noe Valley’s diverse food scene and the expectations of its residents.

I asked about how the residents of Noe Valley are linked with its food culture and Pastore told me to be cautious to link the two.

“I think it’s risk to try to identify a causal link between the identity of Noe Valley residents and the types of restaurants you find in the neighborhood,” Pastore said. “For example, I don’t think we have either a significant Sardinian population in Noe Valley, nor one that was familiar with, or specifically desiring Sardinian food.  La Ciccia on 30th Street, however, has done really well bringing that cuisine into the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood houses many different families from different places so the expectations to make genuine cuisine from anywhere is high.

“We cater to a clientele that’s typically knowledgeable of and conscious about food,” said Pastore. “There is a good chance our guests traveled to many of the places that our cuisine represents, so we have to be authentic.”

Pastore shared some Noe Valley staple restaurants and establishments. All restaurants have been open for a number of years since Noe Valley’s turnover rate is low compared to the other parts of the city, according to Pastore.

Expectations are high and my stomach is empty. I’m going to get eating.

On top of the valley

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Every time I head to Noe Valley, the journey there is a mix of the BART (the easier part), by bike (the hard part) and by foot (when I give up the hard part). The steep hills lead to the best views in the city and the bike ride down is another great payoff. Good thing my brakes work as well as they do.

A Real Burden

24th Street

The walls of the Real Foods building are still colorful with its vibrantly painted windows, but the walls are empty on the inside and have been for almost nine years now.

The Noe Valley location of Real Foods closed down suddenly on Labor Day 2003, leaving the employees out of their jobs, and since then, the space has not found a purpose since then. Owners of the company, Utah based Nutraceutical, still own the property and their initial plans of reopening and renovating seem to have stopped, leaving the burden of unused prime real estate an issue for the neighborhood and its residents.

District Supervisor Scott Wiener and the rest of the neighborhood just wants Nutraceutical to sell the space. In an interview with Wiener, he said the owners have had no indication to sell and he is trying to push for a sale. What would be done with the space is another story.

24th StreetThere would still have to be renovations to the sidewalks if the building were to turn into a parking lot or demolishing the whole space and building apartments would further damage the tough parking of 24th Street. Those were some ideas from Small Frys owner Carol Yenne and Friends of Noe Valley President Todd David. The space is in a development purgatory.

The neighborhood just wants to see something done with the burdening space and hopefully, something will come about soon.

On the walls around the neighborhood

3871 24th Street

Bearing influence from their Mission neighbors, Noe Valley has its share of murals among the district’s walls.

Artist Mona Caron designed and painted the murals seen on 24th Street, a dyptich for the farmer’s market that is held just underneath the murals. Her contribution to the neighborhood led to the establishment of Mona Caron Day on Sept. 28, 2009 at the unveiling party.

The mural displays the Noe Valley in its past around the 1930s on a ribbon with sepia tones and old architecture. There are glimpses of the neighborhood’s past with a depiction of the Noe Theater in its heyday. Connecting the past to the present is the scene on the other side of the ribbon with vibrant colors of Noe Valley’s present scene. Locations like the MUNI J stop is painted in front of a festival in the light rail intersection on 24th Street. The performance in the intersection is a traditional Hispanic dance performance.  The ribbon is surrounded by different produce like eggplants and flowers to reflect the farmer’s market that is held just in front of the murals.

On the opposite side of the mural is an accompanying piece depicting 24th Street in its present state and some of Mission Street on a ribbon overlaying more vegetables like turnips and carrots. There are scenes of 24th Street by the BART station and Cafe La Boehme across the street next to a march for Mexican rights on the corner.

The murals encapsulate the history and present of Noe Valley and the relationships with the Mission District.

The mayor of 24th Street

24th Street

Strollers line the small children’s store on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Noe Valley as Carol Yenne helps a customer choose a new sweater for her daughter.

“Isn’t it cute?” Yenne said to a regular customer, describing the sweater as if she were part of the customer’s family.

She is. Well, not technically.

Yenne is a 37-year Noe Valley resident and owner of Small Frys, a children’s shop on 24th Street established in 1991. She says being a part of the community is the key to a store’s survival in the neighborhood. The shops on 24th Street are in prime real estate and have been established there for many years so if newcomer want to set up shop, being a part of the community can help immensely. In Noe Valley, even businesses are a family.

Keeping the store in the family, Yenne passed the role of manager and lead buyer of Small Frys to her eldest daughter, Azia, who is raising a family in Noe Valley. She also believes a business should not try to isolate itself in a community.

“You can’t be an island and be successful,” Azia said about prospective businesses. “In order for one store to be successful, the whole street needs to be successful.”

Yenne and her husband Bill, a Noe Valley historian and author, started living in Noe Valley in 1974. Yenne started at Levi Strauss & Co., working in merchandising and operations for 20 years before opening her own business in 1991. Her experience at Levi’s taught her about the importance of making an effort to be involved in the community.

Yenne was president of the Noe Valley Merchants Association, worked to get a Community Benefits District designated in Noe Valley, fought for a planning department and engaged in other community acts.

Her influence gained her the unofficial title “mayor of 24th Street,” said her husband.

This sunny Saturday was an errand day for Todd David, president of Friends of Noe Valley, a nonprofit public benefit corporation, as he stopped in the store and chatted with Yenne. He said Yenne is his go-to person for anything about Noe Valley.

“She knows the history of this place,” David said, making Yenne laugh. “If there’s anything you need to know about Noe Valley, ask Carol.”

David was only stopping by to say hello but ended up catching up with Yenne, going over his plans for the weekend and some issues in the neighborhood.

Though she is retired, Yenne occasionally helps around the shop and still keeps up with the neighborhood’s current affairs, offering some advice and experience. In between helping moms and dads choose new San Francisco Giants hoodies for their kids, she discusses the neighborhood’s second-floor zoning restriction and the future of the empty Real Foods Company building. She stays current.

Being a business owner while raising a family is easy according to Yenne, giving her the flexibility she needed to take care of her family and stay involved in the community. Currently, Azia is acting manager and lead buyer, who is raising her own children and running the family business. Yenne has taken a smaller role in the business, like she did with her community involvement, but is still a large presence.

Azia said in order to keep up with the times, it’s best to know your customers.

“The best thing you can do is to keep up with the customers’ wants and needs,” Azia said.

The shop is made for the children roaming around with their parents on 24th Street. Families pass by admiring the colorful window display on this somber Saturday afternoon. The shops ceiling is hand painted with a blue sky, fluffy clouds and fields of green. The clothing racks pop with color and racks of children’s books easily attract the customer’s eye as Yenne goes from customer to customer, family to family, laughing in each interaction.

“Carol is directly invested with her customers and business,” Ashley Marshall, Small Frys employee and SFSU English major, said about working with Yenne. “She is a great employer and that makes me motivated to become a great employee.”

Her employees stay as a family with some starting as customers. Yenne said one of her customers, who came in as a child, became one of her employees later on. That employee now goes to the University of Oregon and visits the store occasionally.

The “mayor of 24th Street” is trying to stray away from the title, but she still appreciates the recognition. After all the years in business, Yenne still enjoys the community and its families.

“It’s still fun.”

A Refinished Neighborhood

Noe Valley mixes a classic landscape of Victorian-style houses and buildings with young families and independent businesses.

Between the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, Noe Valley bears influence from both districts and also acts as a suburb to each. The mix of new and old businesses in the Mission and the Castro’s modern home ascetics constitute Noe Valley. The neighborhood is a prime place to settle down for new families. Strollers roll across the sidewalks and children with their parents run up and down 24th Street alongside the many book stores and Whole Foods Market.

The Whole Foods Market opened in 2008, giving 24th Street a resurgence of customers but also creating a parking problem, according to residents and workers. Long time resident Michael Brown said the generational gap between residents contribute to the lack of parking in Noe Valley.

“Older generations don’t really bike or take the bus to get to a grocery store,” said Brown. “The younger generation can get bike lanes made on any street and take away parking from long-term residents.”

Though Noe Valley’s boutiques and restaurants may bring people from all around the city, the district still maintains a community feel. Neighborhood businesses like Noe Valley Music and 24th Street Cheese Company have been in Noe Valley for more than 10 years, seeing different generations of residents over the years.

“We’ve taught [music to] both the parents and children,” said Doug of Noe Valley Music, serving Noe Valley since 1986.

In most of my interviews, the people and weather are what residents and visitors like most about Noe Valley. One person said it’s pretty windy but overall, Noe Valley is one of the sunniest neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Though the neighborhood vibe provides that sense of community, new residents can feel like outsiders, according to Noe Valley born and raised Katie King.

“Some of the people can be closed minded,” said King. “If you don’t look like you ‘fit in’ to their standards, you stick out like a sore thumb.”

Other than the occasional detractor, the community support for the small businesses and restaurants has been helpful according to merchants at toy store The Ark and fashion boutique Is So. Residents don’t need to go far for basic needs like groceries and can shop locally for specialty goods, further contributing to the community aspect.

“Noe Valley is an old-fashioned neighborhood,” said Ellen of 24th Street Cheese Company. “The people here are not too transitory, giving it the sense of community.”

The mix of new business ventures and old sense of community make Noe Valley a mellow place to settle down. Just watch out for the strollers.