Charting change on Fillmore Street

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LUXURY APPAREL chain stores have made a major incursion onto Fillmore north of Bush Street in recent years, a new survey confirms, and clothing stores now make up nearly a third of all businesses on the street.

But the survey also finds there are still dozens of service businesses and non-apparel retailers — and that most businesses on upper Fillmore have been open for more than a decade.

The analysis of city data, Yelp price rankings and news articles was conducted by Hoodline, a neighborhood news website based in the Lower Haight that aims to help people better understand what’s happening in city neighborhoods by quantifying businesses and services.

“Why have so many luxury apparel chain stores opened on upper Fillmore?” the surveyors ask. Their conclusion: “Beyond the general economic growth of the city, our findings suggest that the success of independent retailers created an especially attractive environment for them.”

On Fillmore south of Bush Street, it’s a different story.

“For a variety of historical and architectural reasons, the quaint Victorian storefronts aren’t available south of Bush,” the survey says. “The area unfortunately reflects the decades of failed experiments in urban redevelopment. Vacancy rates are higher.”

Hoodline also finds that fewer storefronts are available in the redeveloped areas of lower Fillmore.

“Large portions of the blocks are dominated by blank concrete walls, and the decline in density of shops is unmissable,” it concludes.

Read more: “A victim of its own success?

Farewell to a Fillmore icon

BlueMirror

By ROCHELLE METCALFE

Independent, strong, a fighter, bold and daring, the Fillmore’s Leola King was a phenomenal woman — and a beautiful, sophisticated lady. The high yella Sepia Queen turned heads when she entered a room, divine in her furs, jewelry and glamorous outfits that fitted her style and personality. The lady was a star.

She passed away on February 3 in Palm Springs, where she moved in 2010 to be near her son. She was 96.

Leola King came to San Francisco in 1946. She was a fixture in the Fillmore District and contributed greatly to it becoming the “Harlem of the West.” She was one of the first women of color to own a nightclub and to build a real estate empire in the Bay Area. 

Leola King with her mother in the 1950s.

Leola King with her mother in the 1950s.


Her popular Blue Mirror club opened in 1953 on Fillmore near McAllister, featuring the likes of Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Dinah Washington. Pianist-crooner Earl Grant would fly up from L.A. to perform on Monday nights.

Goldie, as she was affectionately known by her friends, was also the name of her last nightclub, on Post Street near Van Ness. 

She lost most of her property during redevelopment. Like others, she received a voucher promising she could return. Unlike many, who could not afford to wait 10 years or more, Leola King had the fight and the money to hang on — but still did not get a piece of the action in the new Fillmore.

During the construction of the Jazz Heritage Center in 2006, she dreamed of reopening the Blue Mirror. When she learned the name would be used for a restaurant in the center without her permission or consultation, she threatened a lawsuit. Instead, the restaurant opened as 1300 on Fillmore.

At her homegoing on February 13 in the heart of the Western Addition at Third Baptist Church, Leola King was passionately eulogized by Rev. Amos Brown, former mayor Willie Brown and others.

Among those who came to express condolences were legendary Fillmore entertainers Sugar Pie DeSanto and Bobbie Webb, both still performing. A repast was held at West Bay Community Center on Fillmore, around the corner from her San Francisco apartment building on Eddy.

Read more: “Leola King: Queen of Fillmore

Lots of chic new shops, not so many shoppers

The new Rag & Bone boutique at Fillmore and California.

The new Rag & Bone boutique at Fillmore and California, formerly a coffee shop-laundromat. Photographs by Daniel Bahmani

RETAIL REPORT | BARBARA KATE REPA

It’s impossible to ignore the cries and whispers: Fillmore, long loved and lauded by locals, has been transformed from a neighborhood street serving residents who live nearby into a high fashion shopping destination.

In recent years, two dozen new clothing boutiques have set up shop on the street, most offering single lines with corporate roots and identities. They have renovated aging storefronts, many of which needed attention, into chic new showplaces for their brands.

But one key element seems to be missing: shoppers. Most of the stylish new shops are empty much of the time, except for sales associates checking their cell phones and security guards stationed at the front doors. And very few shopping bags are in evidence on the street.

Read more »

The gathering place

Photographs, Text and Video by ERIKA KOCOURKOVA-TETUR

Half a century has passed since the neighborhood had at least one barbershop on each side of every block. Back when churches were the places people gathered on Sundays, barbershops served that function the rest of the week. People went there not just for a haircut, but also to talk to their neighbors and get the news.

Over the decades, barbershops disappeared, one by one. Among the survivors in the Fillmore were New Chicago Barber Shop and the Esquire Barber Shop. The New Chicago, at 1551 Fillmore, was one of the oldest businesses on the street, finally closing in 2012. The Esquire, at 1826 Geary, remains one of the last local businesses of its kind.

Tucked between the Boom Boom Room on one side and Mr. Bling Bling, a maker of teeth grills, on the other, this small traditional establishment continues to be the place, five days a week, for conversation, news, gossip and even the occasional trim.

“A barbershop is a social media hub,” says Jon Kevin Green, owner of the Esquire.

The Esquire's Gail Pace is a rarity: a female barber

The Esquire’s Gail Pace is a rarity: a female barber

Since 1968, the shop has served a range of people, from businessmen in suits to the dudes hanging out on the Geary bridge.

A second-generation barber, Green remembers the days when gentlemen came to the shop, smoked cigars and discussed philosophy, religion and the weather while getting a haircut.

Walking through the shop door now is like stepping back in time. With a stash of magazines and newspapers lying around, an antique chessboard and a Bible in the corner, the Esquire Barber Shop has maintained its traditional character. The steel and leather chairs still have ashtrays, even though smoking is no longer allowed.

The major change since the old days, says Green, is that now he employs a female barber, Gail Pace, who formerly worked at New Chicago. Green says there weren’t many female barbers when he was growing up.

While the neighborhood has undergone massive changes in recent years, Green remains optimistic about his business. “Things change, but people will always need a haircut,” he says. “We just have to roll along with the times.”

EARLIER: “New Chicago: more than a barbershop

Weir cooking in the neighborhood

Joanne Weir's cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen on Pine Street.

Joanne Weir’s cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen near Fillmore.

NEIGHBORHOOD CELEBRITY CHEF and cooking teacher Joanne Weir is launching a new public television series — her eighth — focusing on complete menus from fresh, local ingredients. “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh,” like her two most recent series, “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class” and “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence,” will be filmed partly in the neighborhood.

“Many people don’t realize that kitchen is my home kitchen studio right here in the neighborhood,” she says. “For a few years, I shot in the studio at KQED and, though I liked it, I love being in my own kitchen. When I open a drawer, I know what I’m going to find inside. And if we run out of something, we can always run over to Mollie Stone’s or Whole Foods.”

In the new series, she will also step out of the kitchen to spots in Northern California and beyond searching for fresh ingredients, exploring organic tomato farms and walnut orchards, visiting fig growers and cheese producers — even fishing in Alaska. Using seasonings from Spice Ace, the neighborhood’s spice emporium, the show’s menus will be inspired by the farmers, butchers, fishermen and cheese makers featured along the way.

As in her previous shows, she will be joined in her kitchen by special guests, including several principal dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. For the broadcast schedule, visit her site.

5 Fillmore favorites

OUT & ABOUT | FAITH WHEELER

It comes as no surprise that San Francisco has the most restaurants per capita — about 39.5 per 10,000 households, according to the U.S. census. No other city comes close. New York is fourth.

As a result, we’ve become restaurant news junkies, always trying to keep up with the hottest new places rather than honoring old favorites. Restaurant-going has become as much about fashion as Fillmore’s many boutiques, with diners vying for boasting rights on the reservations they’ve snagged.

As a restaurant consultant for more than 25 years, I am often asked where to eat. First I list all of the newest, toughest reservations. Then I send them to the neighborhood — because strong signature items will always persevere, and we have in our midst some timeless go-to dishes that can easily keep pace with any new arrival.

To that end, here are five of my favorite tastes at local spots. They never disappoint — and are very likely still to be on the menu when you look for them next time.

Read more »

Millard’s took Fillmore dining upscale

Behind the counter at Millard's, which had one of Fillmore's first espresso machines.

Behind the counter at Millard’s, which had one of Fillmore’s first espresso machines.

LOCAL HISTORY | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Helen Brackley and Craig Silvestri were just another young neighborhood couple with dreams of starting their own restaurant.

“We both loved to cook,” says Silvestri. “So we just decided we’d open a little place with a limited menu and do crepes.”

But first they had to find a good location. It was a more innocent time — San Francisco in the mid-1970s — so they started sending out letters to different cafes and restaurants asking if the owners might be interested in selling or retiring.

“We looked all over,” Silvestri says, “in different neighborhoods and even up in St. Helena.”

They lived a few doors up Clay Street from Fillmore. One of the people who responded to their letters owned the Hob Nob cafe at 2197 Fillmore, a tiny sliver of a place that for decades was next door to the Clay Theater, which they could see from their front steps.

“The Hob Nob was pretty funky,” Silvestri remembers. “It had been there a long time and was not a very active place.”

The Hob Nob stood for decades by the Clay Theater in a sliver of a space.

Millard’s took over the Hob Nob cafe, which stood for decades next door to the Clay Theater.

Read more »

Ever more fashionable Fillmore

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The new HeidiSays at 2426 Fillmore. Photograph by Justin Schuck.

HEIDISAYS: CONSOLIDATE

Heidi Sabelhaus, the name behind three HeidiSays boutiques on Fillmore Street, says she’d been looking for the perfect spot to consolidate her two clothing shops, Collections and Casual, into a single HeidiSays San Francisco. Then she realized she had it all along in her original store at 2426 Fillmore. The new HeidiSays now presents the casual collection as a “store within a store” in its reconfigured home.

“It was time to give it a facelift,” Sabelhaus says. She divines her customers will be happy to find everything under one roof, and wanted the facelift to result in an elegantly beautiful shop, heavy on warm wood and marble. “There’s such a trend of sterile contemporary environments, but I know my customers want a more feminine feeling,” she says. The grand opening is not until March 5, but raffle gifts will be given away all during the month of February.

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Rebecca Minkoff at 2124 Fillmore. Photograph by Daniel Bahmani.

HANDBAGS AND HOT BEVS AT REBECCA MINKOFF

There are two short racks of clothes and some shoes and wallets at the Rebecca Minkoff store just opened at 2124 Fillmore, but it stocks mostly handbags — befitting the store’s namesake and owner, who broke into the fashion business a decade ago with her iconic Morning After Bag. While the handbags help fill somewhat of a retail gap on the street, the real draw so far is the high-tech shopping experience.

A graphic screen lining one wall beckons shoppers to touch it for more information. They can then access a Lookbook and press prompts to “Send favorites to a fitting room” or “Order a complimentary beverage.” Shoppers get a text when their items have been gathered in a fitting room and once inside, they can beckon sales associates to bring in additional colors and sizes and even adjust the lighting from daylight to twilight — again, with the swipe of a screen. While the brand is distributed in more than 900 stores worldwide, the Fillmore location is the third freestanding store in the U.S.

ministry

The pop-up Ministry of Supply at 1903 Fillmore. Photograph by Daniel Bahmani.

AT MINISTRY OF SUPPLY, FASHION MEETS TECHNOLOGY

Now open at 1903 Fillmore, in what was once the other half of Zinc Details, is a pop-up called Ministry of Supply that offers men’s clothing “integrated with performance technology.” Case in point: Its Apollo dress shirts, which look much like regular shirts but are crafted from a knit synthetic blend said to control heat, moisture and odor. And they’re designed to flex with the wearer, based on Strain Analysis Technology — the same technology NASA uses in its spacesuits. Hence the name Apollo.

The store also stocks pants, T-shirts, socks, vests and jackets — all for men, and all backed by some sort of technological research. The pop-up will be open through June. Ministry of Supply sells mostly online. It currently has one brick and mortar store in Boston and is casting about for additional locations.

peruvian

Ex-Peruvian Connection at 2326 Fillmore. Photograph by Dickie Spritzer.

PERUVIAN DISCONNECTION

The storefront at 2326 Fillmore was transformed with vintage wallpaper, artisan weavings and antique fixtures as the home of clothing company Peruvian Connection for nearly four years. Then, on January 1, it suddenly stood stripped and empty. “It broke my heart to leave,” says company founder Annie Hurlbut. “The store there just ended up being unmanageably small. We couldn’t get much of our collection in the spot and ended up disappointing customers.”

New Yoshi’s closes after 6 months

IMG_2107

IMG_2161THE ADDITION — the former jazz club and Japanese restaurant known as Yoshi’s San Francisco — abruptly suspended operations on January 14. The minority partners had taken over the business only six months ago, on July 1, and rebranded it as The Addition on November 1, sacking the Yoshi’s marquee with a temporary covering.

Former Yoshi’s programmer Peter Williams returned to expand the bookings beyond jazz into soul and R&B. But business declined precipitously and the bar and restaurant — which never got a new concept or chef — had been largely empty since the ownership change.

Read more

Fredericksen’s seeks to rescue Hardware Unlimited

Hardware Unlimited has been at 3326 Sacramento Street for almost a century.

Hardware Unlimited has been at 3326 Sacramento Street for almost a century.

By CHRIS BARNETT

The neighborhood is on the verge of losing another hardware store — the beloved Hardware Unlimited on Sacramento Street — unless the landlord and property manager can come to terms with the owner of Fredericksen Hardware & Paint in Cow Hollow, who says he is trying to honor a deathbed request from his friend to buy the 90-year-old shop.

Barring an 11th hour agreement, the late Dick Norwood’s hardware and housewares emporium at 3326 Sacramento will wind up its liquidation sale and close its doors on January 18.

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