The neighborhood of Noe Valley is home to over 2,000 locally owned businesses that give the neighborhood a unique feel and dedicated community.
Over the last five years, the change in the neighborhood has accelerated, according to the manager of Rabat Boutique, Inci Caner. Rabat is a local business that has not changed owners in over 40 years. However, this last spring they almost had to close when they were not sure they could afford to renew their lease.
Thanks to overwhelming support from the community, they were able to stay in Noe Valley.
The owner of a local jewelry shop, Qoio, faces the same fate, and she might not be as lucky. Gilbertina Guarini has been in business for 20 years in Noe Valley, but fears that she may have to close shop next year.
“It’s very rare to have a new customer. I survive with my old time customers,” said Guarini. She blames this, in part, on the growing population of young families who don’t seem to care about the community and local businesses. “I feel like it’s a new generation, you know. Probably they have the money to buy the houses and have the babies. But they never go out shopping.”
Guarini laments that most of the small businesses in the area have already closed. “Eventually we’ll all have to go.” she said.
For Bernadette Melvin, a small business owner, her journey has been about bringing her love of coffee to everyone she meets. In 2007, Melvin quit her corporate job at Tully’s Coffee and opened Bernie’s Coffee just four weeks later in an old Tully’s location on 24th Street.
“It was also a big transitional time for San Francisco,” said Melvin. “There was a big focus in 2007 on shopping small. And that’s really helped where I think we are today too, we’re back there and it’s 11 years later, people are making a conscious effort to shop small and shop local.”
“The hardest part about doing Noe Valley business right now is that there is, I mean you go ahead and look at any real estate, there is a ton of money in Noe Valley,” said Melvin. “The sad thing is that 50 to 60 percent of those people are getting on shuttles and they are going down to the South Bay because that’s where their jobs are.”
Business owners have had to adjust to a change in schedule because they get the most foot traffic on weekends. During the week, most of the businesses on 24th Street close around 6:00 p.m.
Melvin doesn’t feel threatened by large chains for a specific reason. “As long as it’s fitting to what our needs are,” she said. “Like, we need a hardware store. We used to have one that was here forever and it was locally owned.”
“We definitely need something that will drive people to Noe Valley.” said Melvin. She suggested a bowling alley or Landmark movie theater to drive business.
“People tell me all the time ‘I don’t know what I would do without you’ and that means a lot.” Melvin said.
The Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association (NVMPA) is one of the oldest of its kind in San Francisco, according to the president, Rachel Swann. The job of the NVMPA is to promote business for the merchants in Noe Valley. They also sponsor events in the new Town Square.
“The more the merchants get involved with our association, the greater the impact we’re able to have,” commented Kristen Gianaras, the vice president of the NVMPA.
Swann is a prominent real estate agent at The Agency on 24th Street and Gianaras is the owner and manager of the restaurant, Novy, on the corner of 24th and Noe Street.
When asked what future she sees for small businesses in Noe Valley, Swann answered, “retail is changing. It’s obvious, we’re in a world of Amazon and other services.” She referred to a retail study done by the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development in February 2018. In short, the study explains that there is a demand for retail space in San Francisco due to increased want for retail as a money maker for the city. “Businesses need to adapt to a changing world,” said Swann.
In Noe Valley, many store fronts are empty. The NVMPA want to expand and bring more businesses into the neighborhood that provide unique experiences for people. For example, stores such as Apple and Nike provide products, services and an experience rarely found elsewhere, Swann explained. In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle’s September 19th edition6, Aaron Peskin wants to increase retail in Union Square to attract more people. The NVMPA wants to make similar progress in Noe Valley.
“In any industry and in any neighborhood there’s a resistance to change,” said Swann. It’s difficult for neighborhoods to accept larger businesses coming in because they need to make sure they’re the right fit for the neighborhood.
As put my Melvin, running a small business is “all about drive and focus and commitment to what you’re doing”
It’s clear that small, local business in Noe Valley is transitioning. For some it’s revolutionary, for others it’s sad. As the neighborhood continues to grow and change, all they can hope for is that the people and businesses are able to change too.