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Fillmore Street: Retail Mecca?

The new boutique ADAY has just opened at 2011 Fillmore Street. 

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Despite the fierce turnover among well-heeled retailers, is Fillmore Street still Mecca for merchants? Jon Levy, an exec with Leap — a New York-based firm that creates and launches traditional retail stores for web-based digital brands — is convinced of it. He just snapped up a second storefront on the street for a client and is gunning for a third — all in the same block.

Leap just soft-opened the women’s fashion shop ADAY at 2011 Fillmore, after the cosmetic emporium MAC vanished suddenly last month. A few months earlier, Leap opened Koio, a hip sneaker company, a few doors north at 2029 Fillmore in what was previously the Lilith women’s boutique. Now Leap has its sights on the space nearby at 2033 Fillmore being vacated by Modcloth, the Walmart-owned apparel startup that flopped as a brick-and-mortar venture but lives on online. 

Leap is neither an angel investor nor a venture capitalist. Its gig: Match online retail concepts with hot locations nationwide and get them off the brick and mortar launching pad. And even with the high casualty rates on Fillmore among solidly financed, often globally owned retailers, Levy feels the street has an irresistible appeal to tech-smart, savvy-spending millennials who aren’t afraid to disrupt rules and flout traditions.

Levy maintains that ADAY is aimed at the “fashion forward yet practical” woman who looks for simplicity and versatility in her wardrobe. “This is comfortable yet technical apparel — think high-end fabrics made of recycled materials,” he says. The premise is that customers can wear the same outfit to work, a party, a job interview and a club. “These buyers are found in cities like San Francisco, L.A. and New York,” he adds. “The place to be for retailers targeting those buyers is on Fillmore. Just look at Noosh. Filled. That’s our market.”

Levy, who kicks off all his new store grand openings with a music, food and drink party and invites the neighborhood — none of those “friends and family” insider-only private bashes — is doing the same with ADAY. A do-good shopping incentive: 10 percent of all proceeds will be donated to the California Fire Foundation to aid in wildfire relief.

A tiny plant store on tony Fillmore

Organic forms and abundant greenery mark Plants and Friends at 1906 Fillmore.

A NEIGHBOR, out for a walk one night soon after Plants and Friends opened its new shop at 1906 Fillmore in early October, stopped to admire the greenery in the window.

“It’s fun,” she said to another neighbor walking by. “It makes you smile.”

And so it does. Who would think — in the age of international fashion boutiques and cosmetics salons — that a tiny plant store could sprout on tony Fillmore Street?

Owner Nick Forland, that’s who. Suggest to him that he’s a dreamer for opening a petite plant store in a high-rent district and he seems completely surprised anyone could think he’s taking a risk.

“We’ve made a plant store work for two years in Hayes Valley,” he says with a toothy grin. “We had a test run.”

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More than a few of her favorite things

Chandler Tang’s new shop Post Script has just opened at 2413 California.

CHANDLER TANG is living her dream — curating and stocking what she describes as “very fun things” for Post Script, a new shop she’s just opened in a neighborhood she knows and loves. 

Tang describes her new endeavor at 2413 California Street, near Fillmore — most recently habited by the women’s clothing boutique De Novo — as a “lifestyle store” that focuses on small goods.

The offerings are an eclectic mix of mostly handcrafted items including pillows, throws, soap, candles, planners, bowls, art books, towels and jewelry, along with greeting cards ranging from nice to naughty. Somehow the mix seems unified, no doubt due to Tang’s buying philosophy: “I really just look for a sense of colors and designs that can enrich your every day,” she says. 

Days before opening, Tang wanders about the space, newly brightened by refinished floors and a coat of white paint on the walls, one of them adorned with a mural by local artist Katie Benn. 

It’s also clear there’s another unifying force: She’s stocked the shop with more than a few of her favorite things.  

“Just look at this!” she marvels, plucking a stylized toothbrush with aqua bristles off one of the newly constructed shelves. “It’s by an amazing brand called Hay. They just strip everything and focus on great design.”

Post Script is slated to be open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tang plans to be on site most of the time. “For now, I want to be the face of the store — to meet my customers, to get that personal touch,” she says.

New life for an old library

The library’s majestic former reading room is now available as an event space.

By CHRIS BARNETT

 One of the neighborhood’s enduring architectural treasures has been resurrected and a mystery is solved — almost. 

The 107-year-old Beaux Arts four-story Health Sciences Library on the corner of Webster and Sacramento — which gave refuge to the smart and studious for decades, but has stood empty collecting cobwebs in recent years — is being reborn as a venue for “mission based” organizations and groups looking for conference and symposium space.

A designated San Francisco landmark once known as the Lane Library, the building at 2395 Sacramento Street is now owned by entrepreneurial software executive-turned-humanitarian Kamal El-Wattar and his wife, Anya, a Michelin-starred chef, restaurateur and wellness advocate. The couple bought it more than two years ago for a reported $9.5 million, but have been silent on their plans for the property. Until now.

Read more »

Pacific Heights Health Club ends its 35-year run

A retractable roof in the weight room has been one of the club’s distinctions.

PACIFIC HEIGHTS HEALTH CLUB, with its lofty-sounding name and low-key vibe — where designer workout garb is not required — will close its doors for the last time on November 27, the day before Thanksgiving, at precisely 3 p.m. 

Amy Lang, who took ownership of the club 15 years ago and appointed herself chief motivating officer, announced the move in a letter to members on November 1.

“San Francisco has changed. Retail has changed. The fitness industry has changed,” Lang said in an interview. 

The club’s personal training program will continue in the fitness center of the nearby 2000 Post Street apartments, between Steiner and Pierce.

Lang intends to focus, mostly in online sessions, on coaching women from 45 to 55 interested in weight loss — especially those in tech, who share her work roots.

A longtime neighborhood institution, the urban gym at 2356 Pine, just west of Fillmore, has gone through a number of incarnations. It opened in 1984 — when the city had only six health clubs — as a men-only club that offered massages, a hot tub, and was staffed with locker room attendants. It was frequented by a number of celebrity clients, including, for a time, John F. Kennedy Jr.

David Kirk opened the front part of the club to women when he took ownership in 1990. A dozen years later he opened the entire club to all. 

Fleeing a worklife in finance and tech, Amy Lang took over as owner in 2004, adding a cheeky sense of marketing along with yoga, Zumba and Pilates classes. Later she discontinued the classes and focused on small group training for older people, a change that didn’t sit well with some of the regulars. 

“It created a bit of a kerfuffle,” Lang acknowledges, but also revealed a deeper truth. “It was then that I realized the club is a better place for a person who is a do-it-yourself type of exerciser,” Lang says. “I didn’t know you don’t morph a health club into what you want it to be. But what I’ve learned now allows me to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Farmers market loses a pioneer

Albert Terry’s son-in-law Ephriam Walters on his final day at the Fillmore market.

PRODUCE FROM Terry Farms, picked just the day before, made its final appearance at the Fillmore Farmers Market on November 2 after owner Albert Terry died earlier in the week.

He was one of the original vendors when the market started in 2003 in the parking lot at Fillmore and Eddy, later to become the site of the Fillmore Heritage Center.

“He was there from the beginning,” said his daughter Lisa Terry-Walters. He had learned about the new market as a board member of the sponsoring Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association. 

“After going himself for the first couple of years, he started sending employees,” she said, but they soon wanted to quit. “It wasn’t worth it because they weren’t making enough even to cover the cost of going.”

So Terry started coming to Fillmore again and established an easy rapport with customers and the other farmers.

“He always knew that Fillmore was a special deal, and it became a market that was very personal for him,” his daughter said. “This is the only market he attended regularly himself.”

Terry Farms specialized in peaches — especially white varietals and old-fashioned clings — and pluots. In the fall there were grapes, persimmons and pomegranates.

A decade ago, Terry asked his son-in-law, the tough ex-Marine Ephriam Walters, to come with him to Fillmore. “So I cancelled my fishing trip and came,” Walters said. For the past five years, Walters has been in charge, and has built a strong base of customers who return every week for his fresh fruit and no-nonsense approach.

“When I got out of the Marines, it was hard for me to transition,” Walters said on his final Saturday morning at the Fillmore market, as he bade farewell to his regulars. “This market has helped me. It has changed so much, but a lot of these people I’ve been dealing with for 10 years.”

Walters said the market paid Terry’s medical bills in recent years as he battled heart disease and had to stay close to the ranch he farmed for 51 years in Denair, in Stanislaus County.

Now the family is putting the farm on the market.

“Our family is very hopeful the farm will be purchased by another farmer who will continue to be as passionate about the products the farm produces as my dad was,” said Terry’s daughter, and Ephriam’s wife, Lisa. “With any luck, they will be able to attend the Fillmore market.”

OBITUARY: Albert Leroy Terry (1938-2019)

Market sending mixed messages

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Although residential property sales in the neighborhood have reached the highest level since before the last recession and the market remains healthy, certain factors indicate buyer sentiment has tempered.

There were 39 single-family home and condominium sales in the neighborhood during the last month — traditionally one of the year’s busiest real estate seasons. Activity in the neighborhood was up by 34.5 percent from the same time in the previous two years, reaching the highest level of sales for that time period since 2004.

The city’s most desirable real estate is still in demand, with two-thirds of local sales commanding premiums this fall. But headlines that warn of an impending recession and slipping consumer confidence may have caused some potential buyers to pause. 

And while traffic for most open houses remains solid, real estate professionals report that buyers seem less urgent than in previous months, thanks in part to more inventory coming onto the market. This minor market lull might not last. But it could offer motivated home shoppers the opportunity to avoid contingency clauses and bidding wars while their more cautious competitors wait it out.

Late fall offers opportunities

The extra-large two-level condo at 1940 Scott Street remains on the market.

REAL ESTATE | NINA HATVANY

Whether a property moves quickly usually has more to do with inventory in that category than the quality of the home itself. Excellent properties that are priced correctly can still move slowly when buyers have the luxury of increased inventory.

We have a fantastic listing at 1940 Scott Street — an extra-large condominium in a fabulously walkable location to Fillmore Street, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, two levels, an office, an eat-in kitchen, a roof deck and wonderful space and charm — that has sat for two months, to our amazement.

Late fall is a time when it is very common for agents to see excellent condos and houses still sitting on the market. Buyers are accustomed to such low inventory in San Francisco that come September, when so many properties pop up, many buyers get spooked, worrying about a decline in the market and overwhelmed by all the choices. Instead they decide on a “wait and see” approach. Come springtime, those same buyers, with bonuses in hand and renewed vigor for the search, will come back in droves to purchase properties that have re-launched on the spring market at higher prices.

The lull in the market between November 1 and January 1 presents a great opportunity for buyers to explore the properties that have been available for longer than 30 days and take advantage of the lack of competition.

Nina Hatvany is an agent at Compass Real Estate.

Browser Books begins a new era

Longtime employee Fred Martin at the front desk at Browser Books on Fillmore.

THESE STORIES  almost always turn out wrong: the beloved neighborhood small business — especially if it’s an independent bookstore — shuts down.

But not this time. Browser Books, at 2195 Fillmore, got a new lease on life October 1 when the owners of Green Apple Books took the keys.

Green Apple — the new and used bookseller on Clement Street, which added a second store five years ago on 9th Avenue — promises the Browser name and staff will stay the same and the changes will be gentle.

“We’re proud to help shepherd the beloved Browser Books into the future,” said Green Apple co-owner Pete Mulvihill. “We’re coming in confidently but humbly.”

Green Apple will bring an infusion of operating capital and bookselling backbone, but most of the initial changes will be behind the scenes.

“We do plan some gradual improvements,” Mulvihill said. “I hope that six months from now people will walk in and say, ‘I always loved this store, and it’s even better now.’ ”

Browser Books was rescued by its fans last spring when a GoFundMe campaign almost immediately raised $76,241 to pay the debts of longtime owner Stephen Damon, who has been battling a terminal illness.

That kept the books coming and provided time to work out a longer-term solution. Manager Jordan Pearson led the effort, aided by local entrepreneurs Richard and Ben Springwater.

Green Apple takes over the remaining seven years of Browser’s lease. Owners Kevin Ryan and Mulvihill will be in the store on Saturday, October 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a “Meet the New Owners” celebration and an unveiling of Browser’s new T-shirts and tote bags.

The ’89 quake in the Fillmore

St. Rose Academy, at Pine and Pierce, was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.

ON OCTOBER 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Fillmore and the rest of the Bay Area. The neighborhood was spared major damage, but felt the effects of the quake in ways large and small. The most visible local damage was at St. Dominic’s Church, where the top of the tower was lost and the historic home of St. Rose Academy was razed.  

St. Rose Academy, a Catholic high school for girls, was completed only a few months before the 1906 earthquake, but survived — only to be torn down after the 1989 earthquake when seismic concerns were raised.

Katherine Petrin, an architectural historian, San Francisco native and St. Rose graduate, class of ’81, observes: “The feeling at the start of the 1989-90 school year was that St. Rose was experiencing some uncertainty. This was spurred in part by St. Ignatius College Prep becoming coeducational a few years earlier and the desire of the Dominican order to focus its educational mission at other facilities in Marin. After the October ’89 earthquake, many St. Rose alumnae were none too pleased when the Dominican Sisters claimed the building could not be seismically retrofitted.”

Soon several alumnae formed Save St. Rose!, a group advocating not necessarily for continued educational use, but that a compatible new use could be found for the building, generating income to pay for the project. Partnering with San Francisco Architectural Heritage, the Save St. Rose! group put forward a study, confirmed that federal and state funds were available and presented preservation alternatives to the city Planning Commission and the community.  However, on June 26, 1991, the San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of a permit to demolish St. Rose. 

An earlier St. Dominic’s Church building was heavily damaged by the 1906 earthquake and later torn down and replaced by a new Gothic building in 1928. The highly decorative lantern that extended for decades from the top of its tower was damaged and removed after the ’89 quake. Flying buttresses were later added to strengthen the walls of the church and support its stained glass windows.

— Bridget Maley

The top of the tower at St. Dominic’s Church was damaged and removed.

READ MORE: Locals drew together after the quake at the Pacific Heights Bar & Grill, then a key community gathering place, which never recovered from the earthquake.