West Portal Business Outlook Calm—for Now

While Hayes Valley, parts of Divisadero, and Valencia Street have become hot destinations for new businesses regardless of rent increases, West Portal remains an undiscovered gem. Many businesses along the three-block shopping strip have seen a loyal customer base for decades. Residents have also seen other businesses come and go. Though few storefronts remain empty, a transportation innovation threatens to disrupt the entire solemn, familial corridor.

"We are thrilled with the recently opened businesses that are not only new, but are appreciated by a cross-section of the neighborhood" says West Portal Merchants Association President Deidre Von Rock-Ricci.

… the possibility of the M streetcar going underground is still getting into gear. While the end result would benefit street traffic and commuters, disrupting noises, fumes and dust during construction would hurt businesses.”

Recent openings include Noe Valley Bakery (28 West Portal), Lemonade (16 West Portal), Pilates Story (183 West Portal), the Coder School (231 West Portal) and Tutu School (239 West Portal).

Mary Gassen of Noe Valley Bakery says West Portal is a neighborhood where she has spent a lot of time and loves the "vibe."

"It feels like a genuine San Francisco original neighborhood and the people here are friendly and welcoming," says Gassen, adding that many of Noe Valley Bakery's West Portal neighbors have patronized the original Noe Valley Bakery on 24th Street.

While West Portal has been successful at filling vacancies, some storefronts have been vacant for years. The former Radio Shack at 123 West Portal, a 2400 square-foot space, has been vacant since 2015. According to Frosch's Yelp page, the travel company formerly occupying 314 West Portal, is "very much in business, but their West Portal office has closed and the empty space is up for lease."

Recently, fragrance boutique Scent Pack covered its windows before clearing all merchandise and fixtures from 201 West Portal Ave. The interior is under construction.

In the window of the former AT&T Authorized Retailer at 244West Portal, a Duffin Construction sign hangs next to a Notice of Nonresponsibility dated June 14, 2017. Fashion boutique The Art of Style at 260 West Portal has closed as well.

But empty retail spaces aren't the only opportunities for construction.

"The bigger concern has been the Twin Peaks Tunnel project, which SFMTA starts and stops in fits," says Von Rock-Ricci.

As reported in our June issue, the possibility of the M streetcar going underground is still getting into gear. While the end result would benefit street traffic and commuters, disrupting noises, fumes and dust during construction could hurt businesses. Reduced and detoured street traffic could present hardships for merchants. And with the possibility of eliminated stops post-construction, slower foot traffic wouldcreate a fiscal decrease in revenue for business.

"This project would literally stop the trains for at least two weeks at a time, in multiple intervals, over the course of a year," Von Rock-Ricci continues. "We just learned that this project is now going to be delayed yet another year. I can't imagine an underground M actually being accomplished anytime soon."

She says West Portal would welcome a hip new coffee shop, retail boutique, or artisanal cocktail bar. Those businesses would be part of a long established corridor focused on providing a warm, welcoming atmosphere for all.

"West Portal won't be gentrified," she adds, "it will just continue to evolve with our community."

Tony Taylor is a San Francisco Journalist

July/August 2017

Supervisor Norman Yee's community safety forum included District Attorney George Gascón, Chief William Scott, Captain Denise Flaherty and other inforcement officers

Exasperated Residents Impatient with Crime Spree

San Francisco is #1—in property crime, according to recent FBI data. We are the top of the crop when it comes to per-capita property crimes among the country's biggest 50 cities. If anyone doubts that safety is foremost on the minds of local residents, they would be surprised that Supervisor Norman Yee's community/police meeting filled the classic Art Deco auditorium at West Portal Elementary school, where they were still setting up more seats at 6 pm as the meeting began.

Even though Chief Scott was detained by a meeting in the Mission, Supervisor Yee proceeded with the caveat that the Chief would join the group soon.

…who do you call when you see something suspicious? 553-0123? You get an answering machine. Or do we call 911? Many felt that their attempts to reach police were futile.”

"I think with the recent attempted kidnapping of a thirteen year-old girl on Taraval Street, and the bravery of the young lady in defending herself, as well as the good Samaritans who came to her rescue, and the police officers who made the arrest, this was an example of when the community and the Police Department come together. It is important for the community to meet with law enforcement to find better ways that we can work together to create safer neighborhoods together," Yee told the well behaved crowd.

Less appreciated were the remarks from District Attorney George Gascón, who spent a lot of time defending Prop 47, which "doesn't control felonies like burglaries." Less clear, or at least less popular, if groaning and shaking heads are interpreted correctly, was the explanation about why individual crimes were not prosecuted, in favor of "bundling" because the chances of getting a conviction were greater. "If we don't bunch these felonies together, we know they will not result in significant convictions," the DA explained. And it is the "10% of people who commit 80% of the crimes," at which the DA's office is aiming. Law enforcement "can't be the solution to the homeless problem," he added.

Captain Denise Flaherty was more appreciated by the anxious crowd. "As Captain, I deploy my officers by looking at how the district is impacted by the crime trends, and the feedback I get from you, the community. The Taraval is the biggest district in the City. It takes up about 28.2% of the city's map. That's a lot of residents and they pretty much want the same thing. They want us to stop home burglaries, they want us to stop auto break-ins. Every single neighborhood wants high visibility from officers. They also want us to address traffic concerns, which is a high priority for the City along with quality of life and homeless issues. Every day when I come into the office I review the data from the day before, to determine what will be my mission for the day and how to deploy the forces across the board. We are down this year to date about 13% in burglaries, about 21% for auto burglaries, but we are up for robberies."

Captain Joe McFadden from the Ingleside district, who encouraged everyone to call the police whenever they see anything suspicious. "Even the smallest detail, a broken antenna or taillight," he said, "could be just the detail we are looking for.”

Sitting in for Chief Scott, was Commander Ann Mannix, who set the theme for the day, "get to know your neighbors is the take-away message from this meeting."

The introductory round, before the community questions began, ended with Captain Joe McFadden from the Ingleside district, who encouraged everyone to call the police whenever they see anything suspicious. "Even the smallest detail, a broken antenna or taillight," he said, "could be just the detail we are looking for." About half the cases here are thefts from vehicles, smash-and-grabs.

When Chief Scott arrived, he stressed the need to concentrate on violent and property crimes and the need to avoid flooding our jails. Quality of life crimes, especially those involving the homeless, require cooperation among the police, DA, DPW (homeless services) and DPH (mental health issues). He has established a unit at SFPD with the sole responsibility to address homeless issues, and to coordinate the services available, with a view to long range solutions.

"District 7 is a heavy property crime area," Chief Scott said, "so more resources are committed to that than any other."

When public question time came up, the first question out of the gate was submitted on several cards: "who do you call when you see something suspicious? 553-0123? You get an answering machine. Or do we call 911? Many felt that their attempts to reach police were futile."

District Attorney Gascón suggested that anyone who has a security camera protection system should register it with the DA's office so that enforcement can establish a network of cameras around the city to track down criminals.”

Chief Scott replied, "We recognize that it is a problem—but the volume of calls is huge, and we need to give priority to victims of crimes." But he acknowledged that the department needs to do better to follow with reports and tips from the community. He stressed that 911 should be reserved for crimes in progress, and non-emergency calls go to 553-0123, while things like garbage dumped on the street should go to 311. And the Taraval District Tip line is 242-9753.

Another question was "How do we keep people off the street when they get released right after they are arrested?"

The panel members stressed that Prop 47 does not control felonies like burglaries. "We ask for community victims to appear at sentencing and court procedures to impress on the courts the serious nature of the crimes." Another panelist suggested that "convictions for non-violent crime are often for 90 days, which in real terms means 45 days, and if the time served is already 30 days—yes, they will be out again in a few days."

District Attorney Gascón reiterated that we need to "bunch felonies together in order for there to be significant convictions because 10% of the people commit 80% of the crimes."

"There aren't enough officers to keep us all safe," Chief Scott said, "we are still operation with the same 1,971 officers we have been for years, even though our population has grown."

Another questioner wanted to know it there could be a beat cop on Ocean Avenue, to which Captain Flaherty replied that, "we are nine officers short at the Taraval station." She mentioned the challenges of finding the right person to walk the beat with a short staff, especially when Irving, West Portal and Ocean Avenue all want beat cops. "I want a beat officer who wants to do it, that always works best."

"Can they be bilingual in Chinese," another attendee asked? "Our Ocean Avenue beat cop, Ricky Guerrero, is bilingual in Spanish, but he can always get a Chinese speaking resource in a short time."

Another questioner asked about the recent sophisticated burglaries that do not involve broken windows or doors, "we had 8 last week" that showed no signs of entry.

Captain Flaherty said that some recent thieves have shown significant technological knowledge. "Don't leave your keys near your front of your house — savvy thieves can access the chip in your keys." She suggested that they should be left in the bedroom, preferably in your purse or a drawer where the chip is less accessible.

Another panelist suggested that residents use "the Club" on their steering wheels. While it may not stop professionals, most criminals know that someone who uses "the Club" has probably already been hit, and knows better than to leave valuables in the car.

If your car alarm goes off, make sure that you don't turn it off and go back to bed, thieves often will hide and come back when the alarm is off.

Dogs are one of the best deterrents, another suggested, and even a recording of a dog that barks when the doorbell rings would work.

District Attorney Gascón suggested that anyone who has a security camera protection system should register it with the DA's office so that enforcement can establish a network of cameras around the city to track down criminals.

As Supervisor closed the meeting, many people still had questions, and were encouraged to meet with the panelists after the meeting.

May 2017

Bock’s Jewelers Calls It Quits

Though they probably don’t know it, Ernest and Susanne Bock’s West Portal jewelry boutique has great reviews on Yelp.

“This guy has talent,” Brian P. said in his five-star review. “I don’t normally write reviews, but this company is definitely worth it.

“As I do with all my watches, I take them to the nearest mall and have the battery replaced,” Brian P. continued in his review. “The last repairer damaged the watch case making it nearly impossible to fix. Mr. Bock said he could fix anything [and he] replaced my battery in 15 minutes.”

There is no website for the boutique and chances are they haven’t used Yelp. But, they don’t need Yelp. 49 years of customer loyalty is enough. March 31 will be the Bock’s last day in business before a new jeweler takes over.”

In an age when craftsmen are being replaced with machines and skilled artisans are retiring without anyone to carry the legacy, Bock’s Jewelers is a rarity. And, unfortunately, within a few weeks, the talented duo will pack up their watchmaker tools. It’s time to retire.

This particular Thursday afternoon in West Portal is sunny with a gentle bay breeze. To the west, over rooftops, the ocean is visible from Junipero Serra Boulevard. An outbound two-car M train rumbles through the confusing 12-way intersection that connects West Portal to St. Francis Wood, Ingleside and Sloat Boulevard.

The subtle hum of traffic sounds distant behind the quiet neighborhood. A block of multi-level single-family homes line West Portal Avenue before an enclave of shops begin at 15th Street. West Portal Antiques, a trove of collectables from bygone eras, is across the street from Manor Coffee Shop, a dining destination since 1967.

A shiny electric teal BMW is parked nearby the post office as a parking meter maid slowly drives behind the cars parked perpendicular to the sidewalks. A woman inserts coins to the newsstand then pulls out a newspaper. Business turnovers aside, the neighborhood’s visual landscape is mostly unchanged in the past few decades.

One of the larger boutiques on the block is SF Gold Buyers, an accessory pawn and loan shop. Across the street, two customers pick through kiwis and yellow apples outside of West Portal Produce Market. And immediately next door, under the bright blue awning of 226 West Portal Avenue, Bock’s Jewelers has bedazzled the community since 1968.

Through the window, pendulums swing on wooden cuckoo clocks that hang on the walls. The window displays white jewelry fixtures that prop up delicate gold necklaces, jade rings and diamond earrings. The iron security gate is propped open and inside, a few customers move about the intimate, carpeted space.

“Susanne, can you get out some pearls for me?” Ellen Fishman says, eyeing a byzantium beaded necklace secured inside a glass jewelry case. Mrs. Fishman has been a loyal Bocks customer for “close to 15 years” and has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years.

Mrs. Bock unlocks the case for Mrs. Fishman and a girlfriend to browse while their patient husbands linger near the front door. The phone rings as two more customers enter the boutique for a brief walk around. It is a busy afternoon for the jewelers.

Under a fluorescent light strip behind the counter, Mr. Bock squints one eye into a magnifying loupe while working on an intricate jewelry piece.

Photos of a smiling young girl and Kobenhaven postcards stick to the wall next to the antique, wooden cash register. Next to the register, Mrs. Bock is on the phone with a customer.

“Are you still interested in the rubies? We have two left,” she says softly into the phone, making a note onto paper. She knows her products and customers well. Over the faint sound of jazz music, some chiming clocks strike noon while others read 10:15 and 3:45.

Mrs. Bock moves quickly, ending the phone call to ring up a male customer for a watch repair.

“It’s $15,” Mr. Bock tells his wife from behind his work desk.

After a few deliberate strikes on the antique register keys and a pause for mental math, the bell jingles as the wooden cash drawer slides open. The man collects his change from Mrs. Bock and slides a small white envelope into his jacket pocket before maneuvering through the small crowd of customers to exit.

Mrs. Fishman takes this opportunity to bid adieu as well. She and her friend have decided against the pearls, but promise the Bocks they will return soon.

“Mr. Bock has always done excellent repair work,” says Mrs. Fishman outside of the boutique. “They have fair pricing and there’s no hard selling. They’re an old fashioned type of jeweler.”

“It’s sad that there’s another family business leaving West Portal,” Mr. Fishman adds. “It’s the last real jewelry shop here.”

In 1968, the Bocks lived in Daly City. The then-shop owner of 226 West Portal was also a jeweler, and like the Bocks, was from Denmark. They were connected through a mutual friend who knew the shop was for sale.

“Ernest was a watchmaker who learned to repair jewelry,” Mrs. Bock says of her husband of over 50 years. “It’s what he had to do to take care of the customers.”

In the 49 years they have been in business, Mrs. Bock says West Portal seems to be the same and they still have the same customers. “We never imagined owning this business and it has been very gratifying,” she says.

Their rent was $135 per month when they took over the shop and she declined to share the current rate. When asked what is their secret to so many years in business, Mrs. Bock says they didn’t give up, “though the beginning was hard.”

A customer enters the boutique, slow moving with the aid of a walking cane. Louise Tschudi, a friend of the Bocks, has been living in San Francisco for almost 60 years and used to own a restaurant for 27 years in the neighborhood. Today she needs a necklace fixed and the Bocks do not charge her for the quick repair.

“It’s sad to see them leave,” Mrs. Tschudi says, “but in life you have to know when to call it quits.”

The Bocks now live in Burlingame. After closing the shop, Mr. Bock says they will visit Copenhagen with their daughter and grandchildren.

“We want to close [the shop] while we can do it ourselves,” says Mrs. Bock. “We want to enjoy some good years together.” Mr. Bock turned 82 at the end of February and Mrs. Bock says, “it’s time.”

Mrs. Bock admits with the advancement of technology they have had to keep up. “We go on the computer for inventory and taxes and we have an accountant,” she says. And though they have braved the world of Facebook, they don’t have a profile picture.

“We don’t even know how to use it,” she says with a laugh. There is no website for the boutique and chances are they haven’t used Yelp. But, they don’t need Yelp. 49 years of customer loyalty is enough.

March 31 will be the Bock’s last day in business before a new jeweler takes over.

Tony Taylor is a local reporter. Photos: Tony Taylor

March 2017

A Taste of What’s Possible

Last month’s first-ever event “ A Taste of West Portal” drew residents and visitors to West Portal Avenue for food and entertainment, and to the West Portal Playground for canine contests.

a tightrope walker“Our goal was accomplished,” said Tammi Scott-Wigens, an organizer of the event and owner of West Portal’s S. Marco Fine Leather. The goal was to triple foot traffic along the avenue.

“People were having a lot of fun,” she said. Anyone walking along the avenue would probably agree. Along with food, sponsors brought out the brass band and the circus.

St. Gabriel’s Celestial Brass Band played a variety of tunes, stopping at various locations, and circus performers walked a tight wire in front of 345 West Portal Avenue, a property owned by Mary Ravetti. Earlier, in front of the library, a man juggled to a captive crowd.

“This is so wonderful,” Ravetti said of the event. “It’s a long time coming.” Besides bringing visitors to the neighborhood, Ravetti said it’s a great way for merchants to meet and get galvanized. Merchants won’t stop talking about ways to bring more business to the commercial district and make little-known West Portal a destination. Ravetti says visitors can experience all of San Francisco on the West Portal corridor.

Merchants won’t stop talking about ways to bring more business to the commercial district and make little-known West Portal
a destination.

a band on West Portal

“We call it [West Portal] the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

The canine events drew about 50 people, about half of which live in other neighborhoods. Dogs and their owners participated in contests for cutest dog, best costume and best trick. Alan Berezin’s 10-year-old Chow Chow won the cutest dog contest. The Chow Chow’s purple tongue held sway over one judge’s opinion.

Judges included District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu and District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee. Chu is a former District 4 supervisor. booksales

“Hopefully it [the Taste] will be bigger next year,” said Cynthia Pereira, who’s 11-year-old Samoyed, named Miss Zuree, walked the red carpet in the cutest dog contest. Pereira grew up in West Portal, and currently has family in the neighborhood. balloonSculptor

On the avenue before the canine contests, Jose Calvo-Perez was serving visitors samples of nouveau Peruvian cuisine outside Fresca, his restaurant at 24 West Portal Avenue. “It’s good,” the chef and owner said of the Taste of West Portal. “Not bad for the first time.” Calvo-Perez thinks the event will have its intended effect of improving business on the corridor.

“I couldn’t ask for more,” said Maryo Mogannam, president, West Portal Merchants Association, the event’s main sponsor. The avenue was as busy as he’s ever seen. The weather cooperated. “It’s the buzz and the vibe you see,” he said, reflecting on the feelings people seemed to be sharing during the day.

Keith Burbank is a local journalist.

July/August 2014

Take A Taste of West Portal June 14–15th

West Portal's Merchants Association is bringing what organizers say is the first street fair in decades to the neighborhood. The fair, called the Taste of West Portal, will take place Saturday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., along West Portal Avenue from Ulloa to 15th Avenue. Activities will take place at the West Portal Playground on Lenox Way too.

It's probably the biggest thing the Avenue has had in decades," said Tammy Scott-Wigens, owner of S. Marco Fine Leather, 201 West Portal Avenue. Scott-Wigens has been taking the lead organizing the event. The goal of the event is to triple foot traffic along the avenue.”

It's "probably the biggest thing the Avenue has had in decades," said Tammy Scott-Wigens, owner of S. Marco Fine Leather, 201 West Portal Avenue. Scott-Wigens has been taking the lead organizing the event. The goal of the event is to triple foot traffic along the avenue.

Participating restaurants will be offering visitors free samples throughout the day, a fixed-price menu and their regular menu. This year visitors will dine inside, but in following years organizers hope to get restaurants to set up booths outside.

Participating merchants will be selling items at a special sale price, and merchants selling services will be offering coupons to visitors. Some may offer free services.

Activities include music along each block, circus performers, dog contests, lectures, caricatures, photographs and free treats and giveaways. West Portal Avenue, from 14th to 15th Avenue, will be dedicated as a family and kids block.

Residents interested in entering their canine in a dog contest can sign up on the Taste of West Portal's website, www.tasteofwestportal.com. District 7's Supervisor Norman Yee will be one of the judges.

Kids can participate in arts and crafts, see demonstrations, check out San Francisco Fire Department trucks, have their face painted and see magicians perform, among other activities. Organizers are hoping offer rides on vintage MUNI trains or cable cars.

"It's meant to be a fun, interactive day," Scott-Wigens said.

The City's Invest in Neighborhoods program is providing money for the event through a grant to the merchant's association. The grant is a one-time amount of $10,000, which is meant to help the neighborhood establish funding for the event next year. Organizers hope to establish the Taste of West Portal as an annual event.

"Mayor Lee's Invest in Neighborhoods initiative is thrilled to support projects like "Taste of West Portal" that promote, beautify, and activate neighborhoods across our city," said Joaquín Torres, deputy director, Office of Economic and Workforce Development. "It's just one great example of the partnerships we are building to revitalize our commercial districts and ensure that neighborhoods, such as West Portal, continue to thrive for years to come."

Organizers are encouraging visitors to take MUNI to the event. This year, West Portal Avenue will be open to cars and MUNI trains. In the future, the street may close.

"It's designed to be a fun Saturday outing where people can engage with local merchants and neighbors," Scott-Wigens said. "It is … an opportunity for people attending to experience the flavor or essence of our special neighborhood."

Keith Burbank is a local journalist.

June 2014

Guest Editorial:

Neighborhood Businesses Need to Play by the Rules

West Portal is a one-of-a-kind village, highlighted by fantastic restaurants, neighborhood-serving retailers, and a sense of community that is truly unique in San Francisco. West Portal Avenue is not just any commercial corridor in San Francisco. location for Gold Buyers

While I have not supported every single business looking to open on West Portal Avenue, I have appreciated that every business that has opened on the Avenue has followed the City’s rules, including the required planning and permitting processes.

Following the rules set by the City shows our community that a business is in it for the long haul and is not trying to “pull a fast one.” This is why I am extremely concerned about the proposed opening of the Bay Area Gold Buyers at 162 West Portal Avenue. They seem to be trying to skirt every rule and regulation that applies to them. What are they hiding?

I had assumed that the business would fall under the formula retail conditions set forth by the Planning Code, but because the store will be doing business as Bay Area Gold Buyer and not as their parent company Gold and Silver Buyers, the Planning Code views the store as a “small business” and not as a chain store, despite its clear and direct ties to the 200 plus businesses nationwide.”

The proposed store is owned by Gold and Silver Buyers (www.goldandsilverbuyers.com), a gold buying/pawn shop chain based in Houston, Texas with more than 100 stores in Texas alone. Their website boasts that they own and operate more than 200 nationwide.

In addition to the chain store mentality of the Bay Area Gold Buyers, after a quick search on the Internet, I encountered numerous articles detailing allegations of fraud and an alleged history of deceptive business practices.

I had assumed that the business would fall under the formula retail conditions set forth by the Planning Code, but because the store will be doing business as Bay Area Gold Buyer and not as their parent company Gold and Silver Buyers, the Planning Code views the store as a “small business” and not as a chain store, despite its clear and direct ties to the 200 plus businesses nationwide.

While the Bay Area Gold Buyer was able to skirt the Planning Departments process of permitting a chain store, they are required to follow rules set by the Police Department for opening a pawnshop. These rules require a 10-day noticing period in which the applicant must place a sign in the proposed space to allow for members of the public to comment and provide feedback.

The Bay Area Gold Buyers didn’t even follow that straightforward rule. The Bay Area Gold Buyers posted their sign for less than a week. By attempting to avoid yet another rule, the Bay Area Gold Buyer did not want residents and businesses of the West Portal Community to comment on their proposed opening, and after reviewing their past operations and claims against the company, it is clear why they sought to avoid engaging with our community.

As we know, West Portal Avenue is a special place and that is why I am proud to support the West Portal Merchants in their appeal of the Bay Area Gold Buyers. Given the history of complaints and claims against the owners of the Bay Area Gold Buyers, I am not inclined to “hope for the best.”

The Bay Area Gold Buyers should have posted their notice for 10 days and would have been wise to reach out to our neighborhood and merchants associations. Not only did this corporation of more than 200 businesses choose not to engage with our neighborhood, they chose to ignore the clearly-stated police rules.

I strongly believe that West Portal Avenue does not need a business that ignores the rules set by our City’s Planning and Police Code.

Please join me and dozens of your neighbors and West Portal merchants in supporting the appeal filed by the West Portal Merchants Association. Our appeal is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19th at 5:00 pm at City Hall in room 416. The appeal will be heard by the Board of Appeals and to win, we will need to convince 4 of the 5 members, so your support through letters, emails and public testimony is crucial. Please contact me via email (followtherulesgp@gmail.com) if you can support the appeal.

Avrum Shepard is President of the Greater West Portal
Neighborhood Association

June 2013

Fire Destroys Squat & Gobble, Vin Debut, Neighboring Buildings Damaged

A fire burned Squat & Gobble, 1 West Portal Avenue, as well as Vin Debut, 9 West Portal Avenue, the West Portal Medical-Dental Building, 15 West Portal Avenue, and 823 Ulloa Street, a mixed use, residential and commercial building next to 1 West Portal Avenue, said Mindy Talmadge, public information officer, San Francisco Fire Department. The West Portal Medical-Dental Building is home to Warren Orthodontics.

Four days after the fire, with plywood removed from at least two windows on the north side of 1 West Portal Avenue, a passerby could see the fire burned the inside of the building and the roof. Little of the roof appeared to be intact.”

The Fire Department reported two minor firefighter injuries in the blaze. No civilians sustained injuries, nor was anyone displaced from a residence, Talmadge said.

A passerby reported the fire to the San Francisco Fire Department at 4:40 a.m. Friday, October 12, 2012, according to information released by the fire department.

The fire department estimates Squat & Gobble suffered property damage of $900,000 and content damages of $1 million. For Vin Debut and Warren Orthodontics, the fire department estimates property damages total $1.1 million and contents damages total $3.5 million. At 823 Ulloa Street, the fire department estimates $750,000 in property damages and $100,000 in content damages.

Squat & Gobble has been able to absorb the employees from the West Portal store into its other establishments in San Francisco. “Yes, we’ve already done that,” said J.J., the manager at the store on Fillmore Street in the Lower Haight. “We did that last week.” J.J. said he is aware of the fund to help employees of the West Portal store, and he said employees will be able to take advantage of the fund. But he said he doesn’t yet know how the fund works.

The San Francisco Fire Department’s media relations office has said the fire is still under investigation and the point of origin and cause may not be known.

Four days after the fire, with plywood removed from at least two windows on the north side of 1 West Portal Avenue, a passerby could see the fire burned the inside of the building and the roof. Little of the roof appeared to be intact. At 823 Ulloa, the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection had posted a notice on the window that said “enter the top floor with caution” and only “brief entry allowed for access to contents.” At 9 and 15 West Portal Avenue, metal gates surrounded the entrances, and little could be seen from the street.

A fire inspector was on the scene October 16.

Fund established to help employees

The West Portal Merchants Association has established an account with Bank of America to help employees of the businesses that burned in the fire at the southeast corner of West Portal Avenue and Ulloa Street.

“We’re not trying to sustain them, but trying to show them that we care,” said West Portal Merchants Association president, Maryo Mogannam, owner of The Postal Chase on West Portal Avenue. The name of the fund is West Portal Avenue Association Fire Fund. “Any teller can look it up,” Mogannam said. Donations can be made at any Bank of America branch; all the branches in Northern California received notice of the fund.

All of the employees have insurance and will be getting unemployment, but the donations are for gaps and surprises, Mogannam said. Mogannam said 60 to 70 employees have been affected by the fire; he is hoping each employee can receive a gift certificate of $25, $50, or $100.

The manager of the Bank of America branch in West Portal was unavailable before press time, so the number of donations made and the total amount donated is unknown at this time.

Keith Burbank is a free-lance San Francisco reporter.

November 2012

food truckOfftheGrid Reconsiders Food Truck Event for West Portal

In a surprise move, OfftheGrid has withdrawn its application to hold an event this fall in West Portal—the company will think about a permit for February or March 2013. “If you don’t want us here, then we won’t be here,” said Matthew Cohen, owner of OfftheGrid San Francisco, at a West Portal Merchants Association meeting in October. Cohen came to the meeting to hear merchants’ concerns about a proposed food truck event for this fall in West Portal. While some merchants see the event as a way to boost business, other merchants are afraid it will take away their business.

“People my age don’t know where West Portal is,” said Michelle Eichelberger, 27, owner of the Pawber Shop, a pet grooming store at 323 West Portal Avenue. “Those are people that will come” [to the food truck event].”

“We want to be respectful of everyone,” Cohen said a few days later by telephone. At the meeting Cohen said OfftheGrid is trying to take the least aggressive approach toward establishing an event in West Portal, and said OfftheGrid will be doing more to hear the concerns of West Portal shopkeepers.

Alison (Al) Werger, co-owner of Citipets on West Portal Avenue, said that people don’t know West Portal exists (see the September 2012 issue of the Westside Observer). Werger said the food truck event will help people discover the neighborhood. Another merchant seemed to agree.

“People my age don’t know where West Portal is,” said Michelle Eichelberger, 27, owner of the Pawber Shop, a pet grooming store at 323 West Portal Avenue. “Those are people that will come” [to the food truck event].

But Pankaj Shah, owner of Roti Indian Bistro at 53 West Portal Avenue, told Cohen, “You’re looking at your bottom line and not our bottom line.” Shah is concerned that a food truck event will reduce available parking in the area, driving his customers away. Shah said many of his customers come by car. If they cannot find a parking spot within a block or two, Shah said, they will turn around and go home.

Shah added that Cohen does not have any objective evidence the event will benefit the neighborhood’s merchants. “All I have is subjective evidence,” Cohen admitted.

One or two groups, including OfftheGrid, were planning to place sensors to count foot traffic in a few West Portal businesses. It is unclear if the sensors would count foot traffic before a food truck event, after, or during. But perhaps the sensors will indicate how the event will affect West Portal businesses.

Before the meeting OfftheGrid had modified its proposal to the West Portal neighborhood, including the location of the event. Rather than 14th Street, OfftheGrid proposed the parking lot located at 174 West Portal Avenue, plus sections of the street on either side of the lot.

“I’m sitting here in total shock,” said Linda Kapnick, owner of Ambassador Toys at 186 West Portal Avenue. Kapnick said her customers use that parking lot, and parking is a problem for customers of her West Portal store. Ambassador Toys is open until 6 p.m. Tuesdays, the night OfftheGrid considered hosting the event, and Cohen had planned to have the lot closed by 4 p.m.

Kapnick said that parents frequently tell their children to hurry up because the parents fear getting a parking ticket. Or customers ask Kapnick to leave the package at the door. “Parking is one issue that is so critical,” Kapnick told Cohen and merchants in the meeting.

An important consideration for Ambassador Toys and Roti may be the kind of customer each shop serves. OfftheGrid’s clientele are typically single professionals 20 to 40 years or age, or young couples 25 to 45 years old, with children.

“Seniors, are they your best spenders?” Maryo Mogannam, president of the West Portal Merchants Association asked merchants at the meeting. “Yes,” Kapnick said. “They’re the grandmothers....”

But some merchants at the meeting think that customers of an OfftheGrid food truck event will be good spenders, too.

In another neighborhood hungry for better business, Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, said some restaurants lost business when OfftheGrid established a food truck event near his cafe on Telegraph Avenue.

Becker said business at Caffe Mediterraneum improved, but he said he doesn’t serve standard lunches and dinners as some restaurants do. Becker said business at Caffe Mediterraneum picked up after the food truck event closed for the night, as event customers stopped by for coffee. Caffe Mediterraneum is open until midnight.

So, the food truck event has gotten “a little bit of mixed reviews” on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Becker said.

Cohen said OfftheGrid wants to take everybody’s views into consideration. Thus OfftheGrid has withdrawn its application to hold an event this fall in West Portal. OfftheGrid has said it is sensitive to concerns about the event’s impact on holiday traffic. The company will think about a permit for February or March 2013. If the neighborhood had decided to host an event this fall, the event may have started November 6 and run for six weeks. Then OfftheGrid would have given West Portal the option of continuing the event.

Keith Burbank is a freelance San Francisco reporter.

November 2012

Food Trucks are Coming and May Help More Discover West Portal

Food trucks, which may be bringing more business to merchants and restaurants alike, are coming to West Portal. The event will be hosted by OfftheGrid, which brings together food trucks for events in Hayes Valley in San Francisco and in North Berkeley, near the Gourmet Ghetto, among other Bay Area locations.

Supporters of the food truck event in West Portal, such as Alison (Al) Werger, co-owner of Citipets on West Portal Avenue, want to achieve at least two things by bringing food trucks to the neighborhood. One, improve business for all merchants, and two, make West Portal a destination neighborhood, similar to the Castro in terms of sales for merchants in the neighborhood.

…West Portal is not now a destination neighborhood, but everyone that lives here loves it. “What we want is for people to discover West Portal,” Werger said. That is the purpose of the food truck event. So that when they want to shop and dine they will think of West Portal and come here…”

Werger said that West Portal is not now a destination neighborhood, but everyone that lives here loves it. “What we want is for people to discover West Portal,” Werger said. That is the purpose of the food truck event. So that when they [people] want to shop and dine they will think of West Portal and come here, as people do in the Castro or other busy shopping neighborhoods.

Werger told The Westside Observer that OfftheGrid will not be bringing trucks with the same kind of food as that sold by West Portal restaurants, so as to avoid competition with restaurants in West Portal. Werger said that there are really great restaurants here [in West Portal], but people do not know they are here. “And I want people to know about them and how great they are, Werger said. For example, “I have asked people if they have eaten at Bursa,” Werger said. “And people reply, Where is Bursa? I want people to know where Bursa is.”

Evidence from other food truck events in San Francisco suggest the event is a success for food trucks and other merchants, restaurant or otherwise. For example, the food truck events are popular at other locations, such as the McCoppin Hub and Hayes Valley. In Oakland, near City Center, shiny green trucks glow as people from the State of California building choose which item to indulge in. And despite some initial reluctance, at least some restaurants in the North Berkeley neighborhood have reversed course and are welcoming the event.

For example, Saul’s, an established delicatessen on Shattuck Avenue, is welcoming the publicity it gets when the food truck event is happening, its manager said. And Gregoire, a gourmet takeout shop in North Berkeley, said it’s sales may have fallen a bit, but not considerably, when the food truck event in the Gourmet Ghetto first started. But now its sales have leveled off or improved, owner, Gregoire Jacquet said. “It does bring people,” Jacquet said of the food truck event. Jacquet called The westside Observer after the August issue was delivered to newstands last month.

Feedback: Keith Burbank

September 2012

Will a Food Truck Event Benefit West Portal Restaurants?

“No, absolutely not,” said John Bedroussin, owner of the Submarine Center in West Portal for 32 years. “This neighborhood is clean. We have cleaned it up. One hundred percent not.”

Bedroussin was responding to a question about the possibility of a food truck event coming to West Portal one night a week.

The idea has West Portal merchants asking if the event will hurt or help restaurants in the neighborhood recover from the recession.

Off the Grid would bring six trucks to about one half of 14th Avenue, between the RE/MAX office and West Portal Avenue. Centered among the trucks will be some chairs, but not tables, and a quiet trio of musicians. Fourteenth Avenue would be closed during the event, except for the half closest to Portola, so a resident can park his car in the garage.”

Some West Portal merchants are in favor of the event because they think it will bring new people to the neighborhood. Supporters, such as local retailers, say these new people may drink or finish dinner at West Portal restaurants during the event or drink or dine at a West Portal restaurant at a night in the near future. Also, they say, the event will give people a reason to visit the neighborhood, reinvigorating the neighborhood business district.

But broker associate Art Belenson of Century 21 in West Portal, said business — at least among restaurants in the neighborhood — is down 30%, which is why the restaurants are opposed. They’re afraid the food trucks will draw customers away from them.

Robbie Connolly, co-owner of The Village Grill in West Portal, said the food trucks have an unfair advantage compared with West Portal restaurants, due to higher operating costs than the cost of operating a mobile food truck. food truck

“We pay taxes galore,” said Esperanza Mahan, owner of El Toreador, a restaurant serving Mexican food on West Portal Avenue for 50 years.

The event would be set up by Off the Grid San Francisco, a company that groups mobile food vendors. Off the Grid owner Matthew Cohen said the West Portal Merchants Association approached him about the event. Off the Grid’s website says the goal of its events is to “allow neighbors to connect with friends and families to reconnect with each other.”

One supporter described the proposed event. Off the Grid would bring six trucks to about one half of 14th Avenue, between the RE/MAX office and West Portal Avenue. Centered among the trucks will be some chairs, but not tables, and a quiet trio of musicians. Fourteenth Avenue would be closed during the event, except for the half closest to Portola, so a resident can park his car in the garage.

Cohen said a similar Off the Grid event has been successful in North Berkeley, a neighborhood known for restaurants. The area nearby the food truck event has more than a few frequently-visited restaurants and is nick-named the Gourmet Ghetto.

Bedroussin is concerned the event will leave trash in the streets, and bring people who are homeless to the neighborhood. Also, people opposed are concerned about an increase in traffic congestion because residents will be arriving home from work as the event begins and there could be a lack of parking for the combination of visitors and residents.

Off the Grid has proposed the event for a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., for one year. Cohen said perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 people will come to the event each week.

Another concern is restrooms. If the city does not provide portable toilets, some have asked what restrooms the visitors will use. Also, some people opposed asked if it will be too cold outside in the winter to draw any people to the event.

Mahan said 15 to 20 people from the neighborhood met at a community meeting about the proposal.

Connolly said, “Pretty much all of the food establishments are not in favor [of the food trucks], from whom I have talked to and what I understand. All the other attendees were in favor of the event.”

Mahan said she thinks the event will only benefit retail establishments. “We don’t know how expensive their dishes are. They don’t pay rent. These are the concerns we are facing,” Mahan added.

Past president of the West Portal Merchants Association, Marc Troy, said he thinks “selfish interests” are behind the idea. If a mobile truck to wrap and ship packages came to West Portal, do you think the local package shipper would be in favor of the proposal? Troy asked.

But Matthew Rogers, owner, Papenhausen Hardware said, “I think it would be very positive for the street. It would bring a lot of people to the neighborhood who are unfamiliar with West Portal. It gives them a reason to come here. In all likelihood, the food trucks will have no effect on my business. But in general, it would improve business along the street,” Rogers said. The food trucks would pull people from other parts of the city, besides the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. “It would be a shame if we missed that.”

“I’m totally for it” said Rachel Lopez Metzger, owner, The Desk Set, at 3252 Sacramento Street and 207 West Portal Avenue in San Francisco. “I support it. It will be a very family-friendly event. It will probably help all the small businesses that are there [in West Portal],” she said by phone from the Sacramento Street location. “I want it to happen.”

Keith Burbank is a free lance journalist

July-Aug 2012

 

Sidewalk Arts and Crafts Show Returns West Portal Arts and Crafts Show

The Fine Arts and Crafts Show takes place in the heart of San Francisco’s well-known West Portal Avenue – an area bustling with activity, quaint retail stores, restaurants, bookshops and coffeehouses. The event will run Friday - Sunday, April 13-15, from 10 am to 5 pm on West Portal Avenue between 15th and Ulloa.

Local residents and tourists alike flock to admire the works of more than 60 artists displaying everything from photography, paintings, ceramics, jewelry and much more. The show is free to the public and sponsored by the West Portal Avenue Association.

Among the artists presenting at this year’s festival is Zenon Hipolito of Lathrop, California—a first class weaver specializing in Zapotec Native Art. Zapotec natives originated in Oaxaca of Teotitalan Del Valle and are one of the country’s largest indigenous groups, dating as far back as the sixteenth century. Zenon will be weaving rugs during the show, where he will be offering many styles, colors and sizes of rugs and pillows. He will also betaking orders for special designs or sizes.

Jeweler John Osterhaug of San Francisco creates all of his work from start to finish. He begins the process by cutting, sanding, drilling and kiln-firing multi-colored pieces of glass and then crafts them into earrings, pendants, rings, necklaces and bracelets. “The method that I use to create my jewelry results in a unique set of work exhibiting a luminescent quality that glistens and glows as you move it,” said John.

Contact the West Portal Avenue Association at 566-3500 or Pacific Fine Arts at (209) 267-4394 or visit www.pacificfinearts.com.

April 2012