Businesses blooming on Sutter Street

Photograph of Jet Mail co-owner Kevin Wolohan by Kathi O'Leary

Photograph of Jet Mail co-owner Kevin Wolohan by Kathi O’Leary

By Barbara Kate Repa

THE ONCE SLEEPY 2100 block of Sutter Street, stretching from Steiner to Pierce, would seem an unlikely spot for an urban renaissance.

But in recent years the area has quietly remade itself. Even as it lost a few longstanding businesses, it has attracted an eclectic assortment of independent shops — including Jet Mail, which moved down last year from a prime location on Fillmore Street, the newly relocated Iyengar Yoga Institute and gourmet destinations Song Tea and Spice Ace — that have begun to draw increased notice and foot traffic.

sutterstdomOne of the first of the new wave to locate in the area was Olivia Dillan, who with her husband Ben Balzer opened the spice shop of their dreams in October 2012 at 1821 Steiner, two doors from Sutter, and called it Spice Ace.

“When I first looked at this space the landlord warned me away, saying there’s absolutely no foot traffic here,” she says. “But I just had the feeling it would work, that people would find us.”

As she was recalling the conversation, right on cue, several customers filtered in at once, one searching for a specific type of smoky cumin, another looking for a gift for a friend who looks to cook, a third — a recent transplant from Chicago — hoping to find a store that would live up to the specialty spice shop she recalls fondly there. All left with their needs fulfilled.

Dillan, who lives near the shop, remains a loyal booster of the neighborhood and is proud of the Sutter Street surge. “We’re bringing back the small business owners to the area,” she says. “That’s especially important with all the brand name, high-end stores on Fillmore.”

Other recent newcomers to the area include:

• Song Tea and Ceramics. Located at 2120 Sutter, Song Tea founder Peter Luong makes it his personal mission to educate browsers about the curated selection of fine teas and teaware offered in the shop.

• Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. At 2201 Sutter, this is one of three Iyengar yoga institutes in the U.S. It recently relocated from the Sunset, seeking a spot with a strong “community feel.”

• Regard Interiors. At 2182 Sutter, this atelier is owned by interior design consultant Isabelle McGee, whose credits include hotel interiors and a luxury private residence she created for a Saudi Prince in Munich, Germany.

• Attention to Detail Barber Gallery. At 2180 Sutter, this upscale barbershop — which opened three years ago — has quickly made its mark with the personalized services offered by owner Anton Cura, who also hosts a barber reality show, “Making the Cut.”

• Velvety Nails & Beauty Spa. At 2183 Sutter, this new salon offers a menu of preening and pampering that includes sugaring hair removal and eyelash extensions, perms and tinting in addition to manicures and pedicures.

Spice Ace’s Dillan says there’s been a noticeable uptick in foot traffic in the area in the last six months, especially after Song Tea opened just around the corner on Sutter. She keeps a ready supply of business cards for Song Tea and other local merchants at the spice shop’s register, eager to point shoppers their way.

Sales associates at Song Tea in turn applaud the off-Fillmore locale. They note that the doctors and therapists ministering to patients out of the street’s Victorians are among their biggest customers, and that the yogis and yoginis frequenting the recently opened Iyengar studio provide “a natural fit of like-minded spirits” for tea tasting.

The newly beaten path doesn’t lack for eateries, either. The corner of Sutter and Pierce is held down by two sweet ones: Sweet Lime, a Thai restaurant where Neecha long stood that touts gluten-free options; and Sweet Maple, the breakfast and lunch spot that boasts the sugared and peppered Millionaire Bacon, made famous by an appearance on the Discovery Network’s “United States of Bacon.” And Cafe Murano, nearby at 1777 Steiner and now under new ownership, continues to woo the cafe crowd with free WiFi, outdoor seating, carmel macchiatos and relaxed service.

Soon there will be two more new businesses on the increasingly bustling 2100 block of Sutter Street. Longtime tenants Timeless Treasures and Sidney for Hair moved out last year so their building could be renovated, and won’t be returning. Signs on the doors of the newly remodeled shops announce the availability of more than 775 square feet at 2174 Sutter and more than 1,000 square feet at 2176 Sutter.

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