Help save Browser Books

Photograph of Browser Books at 2195 Fillmore by Daniel Bahmani

A PUBLIC APPEAL | CATIE DAMON

We need the help of the neighborhood to ensure that people continue to make memories at Browser Books, as they have for decades.

With the proliferation of online shopping and e-books, it has been challenging to keep Browser’s doors open. When the recession hit in 2008, we almost closed, and my dad, owner Stephen Damon, was forced to double down so that the shop could continue. Business has vastly improved since then, but the debt has accrued. And my dad can no longer sustain the debt and his medical bills.

This month, we begin running a Go Fund Me campaign to save Browser Books. The goal is to raise $75,000 to pay off the store’s debts. Any money received after the debt has been paid will go to building the store’s future. This will enable the bookstore to continue under the direction of its longtime employees.

If we cannot raise this sum, my dad will be forced to close Browser Books at the end of the year and the neighborhood will lose an important literary and cultural center.

For more details — and to donate to the campaign — please go HERE.

FIRST PERSON: “Growing up at Browser Books

Growing up at Browser Books

Browser Books owner Stephen Damon with young Catie Damon.

FIRST PERSON | CATIE DAMON

Browser Books, the literary landmark on Fillmore near the corner of Sacramento, was originally located one block north, beside the Clay Theatre, in a building that had also been a head shop and a recording studio for Carlos Santana’s first album, called simply Santana and released in 1969.

How my dad, Stephen Damon, came to own Browser in 1978 is, as he acknowledges, a curious and incredible story.

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Monty’s big day out

Monty on a visit to Chouquet’s on Fillmore.

MONTY HAS A SWAGGER. It’s a swagger of self-assuredness, a wiggle. It’s the wiggle-swagger that only a noble and confident West Highland Terrier can have. That was exactly the swagger he wiggled on his recent Big Day Out.

Monty’s best friend, Alison Carlson, was having work done on their home in the neighborhood. Contractors were in and out the door when one of them left it open, and Monty had the idea that he wanted a breath of fresh air. He decided on Chouquet’s, at Fillmore and Washington, where he knows the outdoor terrace well. He walked along the sidewalk unchaperoned, chest-out and proud. He made it to the orange-colored table Alison normally sits at and curled up underneath, unconcerned about the lunchtime diners with confused and worried expressions.

Longtime Chouquet’s staffer Pamela Gioe, who knows Monty well, brought him a bowl of water. Monty lapped it up, squinting in the sun. Luckily, Monty wears a handsome nametag around his neck, and Pamela was able to find Alison’s contact number and call. Unperturbed and feeling right at home, Monty remained curled up under his usual table and laid there Buddha-like until Alison zipped over in a cab to take him home.

It was the perfect rescue ruined only by lack of danger.

— Mark Fantino

The end is near

Kelly on Fillmore, a portrait of Kelly Johnson by Anne Ruth Isaacson

NEIGHBORHOOD ICON Kelly Johnson, a steady presence on the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento for many years, plans to die in early May. Wracked by terminal illness, he has invoked California’s new End of Life Option Act. After a final few weeks of celebrating with friends, he says May 7 will be his last day on Fillmore, where he has lived since 1969.

EARLIER: “Kelly’s Corner

Two Fillmore locals

Kelly Johnson, who established the S.F. Dance Theater on Fillmore Street, remembers his onetime neighbor around the corner, coppersmith Armenac Hairenian.

How Pacific Heights got a 40-foot height limit

One of the flyers distributed during the fight for a 40-foot height limit.

By SUSAN SWARD

On a Friday in April of 1972, Charlotte Maeck got a purple postcard in the mail at her Pacific Heights residence that she initially thought was a hosiery advertisement from the I. Magnin department store.

On closer look, she saw it was a city announcement of a hearing the following Tuesday on a proposal to rezone the areas between Van Ness to Steiner and Union to Washington to permit structures of up to 160 feet — or 16 stories. Before then, height limits of 65 feet and 105 feet existed in various parts of Pacific Heights.

Maeck, who was busy raising her four children with her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Maeck, in their home on Pacific Avenue, knew nothing about planning codes and had never been involved in the brawling political fights over development in San Francisco.

She came from Staten Island, where her grandfather founded a marine hardware company. “We were concerned about neighborhoods, and families watched what went on,’’ Maeck recalls. But “I knew nothing about zoning.”

That was about to change.

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Zinc Details is calling it quits

Photograph of Vasilios Kiniris at Zinc Details by Daniel Bahmani

ONE OF THE best-known and longest-operating businesses on Fillmore Street is shutting its doors at the end of April. Zinc Details, at 1633 Fillmore, will end its 28-year run and its space is expected to become an outpost of Orange Theory, a nationwide fitness club.

“I’ve met amazing people through our store,” says Vasilios Kiniris, who owns the design shop with his wife and fellow architect, Wendy Nishimura Kiniris. “But it’s time.”

Vas Kiniris, who has been vice president, president and now executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association, intends to devote himself fully to small business affairs in San Francisco. In addition, he has recently become executive director of the West Portal Merchants Association and executive secretary of the citywide District Council of Merchant Associations.

“I think it’s perfect timing,” says Kiniris. “Retail is morphing into a new reality, and I’m parlaying my knowledge of small business and what makes a vibrant street.”

At one point Zinc had three shops and 20 employees on Fillmore Street.

“There’s a real sense of community on Fillmore,” he says. “I want to share that.”

Vas and Wendy Kiniris in their first Zinc Details store, opened in 1990.

EARLIER: “Still modern after all these years

A buying trip to Southeast Asia

‘Don’t you think I owe her?’

Photograph of Nancy and David Conte at the Carlisle by Frank Wing

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“MOM!” the pianist says with some concern as he launches into their favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a photographer begins to click away. “You can’t cry on camera.”

Though not usually with a photographer in tow, composer David Conte often drops by the Carlisle, the retirement community at 1450 Post, to visit his mother, Carlisle resident Nancy Conte. He often plays her favorite classics or show tunes before or after he goes to work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he is a professor of composition and head of the composition department. Other Carlisle residents are treated to regular impromptu mini-concerts.

Performing and composing are nothing new for David Conte. At 7, he and a friend wrote songs and gave concerts in their suburban Cleveland neighborhood. Music education in the public schools was at its zenith, and his father played the trumpet. By 8, he had started piano lessons, and by the time he reached 13, he knew music would be his life. At 19, he moved to Paris for three years, where he became one of the last pupils of world-renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Conte, the eldest of his mother’s three children, has composed more than 100 published works, including six operas and works for orchestra, chamber groups and chorus. His work has drawn critical praise, and aspiring composers arrive at the conservatory to study with him.

But to Nancy Conte — herself a former choral conductor and an encyclopedia of musical texts and tunes — he’s still the son she started driving to piano lessons back in Ohio when he was 8 years old. “It was a lot of schlepping around for a lot of years,” she says. Her son smiles as he launches into a Schubert sonata and says: “Don’t you think I owe her?”

VIVA VIVANDE!

Photograph of Carlo Middione at Vivande by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRISTOPHER BRUNO

“Smell this!”

Carlo Middione said, as he thrust two handfuls of fresh, limp, uncooked spinach fettucine in my face.

I was the newest hire in the spring of 1985 at his gastronomical time machine, Vivande Porte Via, which masqueraded as a restaurant on Fillmore Street. I inhaled deeply and was shocked at the sweet, earthy smell of the uncooked strands. “It smells like…” Dare I say it? Am I crazy? Was this a test? “It smells like…” I looked at Carlo, unable to speak — and he burst out laughing.

He smiled at me with his bristling salt and peppered cheeks. It smelled like that vital life force, that injection of sweetly salted humanity from which all humanity is spun, betraying the true nature of my new place of employment: Vivande comes from the Latin vita, meaning life.

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