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.

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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.

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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.

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Ever more fashionable Fillmore

Heidi-outside

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.

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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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Shell garage told to close

Owner Doug Fredell and his fellow mechanic Chelse Batti have built a loyal clientele.

Owner Doug Fredell and his fellow mechanic Chelse Batti have built a loyal clientele.

DESPITE AN OUTPOURING of support from its customers in the neighborhood, Shell Auto Repair at 2501 California has received notice it must close by January 31.

UPDATE: Just as they were preparing to pack up their tools and shut down, the mechanics at Shell Auto Repair got a three-month reprieve. The business will continue through April 30, giving its two mechanics extra time to find a new location.

“We’re going to see about lining up an alternative location for the shop,” said owner Doug Fredell. “If not, we’ll close. We at least have a fighting chance.”

The owners of the Shell station have submitted plans to the city that would eliminate the garage, add gas pumps and replace the current building with a two-story 24-hour Loop Marketplace convenience store and cafe. The proposal is expected to come before the Planning Commission early in the new year.

More than 200 people signed an online petition opposing the plans and dozens sent letters and emails to City Hall.

Mechanic Doug Fredell, who has leased the garage for the past decade, said he and fellow mechanic Chelse Batti have been overwhelmed by the support they received from the community.

“The neighborhood really stepped forward,” Fredell said. “It’s pretty incredible to know people care that much.”

Ultimately, that support appears to have backfired. When the owner of the station, Nick Goyal, learned that officials at City Hall were listening to neighborhood sentiment against his plans, he notified Fredell he had to be out by January 31.

“It’s a lot cleaner to have the space empty for whatever they want to do,” said Fredell, who had a month-to-month lease. He sought legal advice about his options and found he had none.

Fredell said he has hired a broker to look for another space, preferably nearby, but has found nothing so far.

“Anything that’s a car repair shop is being turned into something else,” he said. “Too bad there isn’t a nice little place on Sutter Street, where everybody else is going.”

Fredell said he remains hopeful a new location will surface — perhaps through a client — in the new year.

“We spent a lot of time building up a good business,” Fredell said. “We wanted to be that place in the neighborhood that is indispensible to people.”

He said telling customers the garage has a definite closing date has been tough.

“Customers get so outraged,” he said. “They found a good place they liked and could trust.”

The garage has operated continuously on that corner for decades. It was owned by Bud Martinez for nearly 60 years. After Fredell took over, Martinez continued to work part time until his death in 2012.

EARLIER: “This Bud’s for you

The Grateful Dead at Winterland, 1977

Winterland, Steiner & Post Streets in San Francisco, December 29, 1977

Winterland, Steiner & Post Streets in San Francisco, December 29, 1977

FLASHBACK | BOB MINKIN

After my summer trip to San Francisco in August ’77, I was itching to get back to the Bay Area. The Grateful Dead provided the perfect excuse — their fabled year-end concerts at Winterland. As a young Deadhead who never got to see shows at the Fillmore, Fillmore West or Avalon Ballroom, Winterland represented the last of San Francisco’s legendary venues.

Armed with my new camera — a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm f1.8 lens — and a load of film, I left New York City on Christmas day, taking Amtrak to Chicago and switching to a Greyhound bus that took me to San Francisco.

After arriving late at night, I lost my wallet in the San Francisco Greyhound bus terminal. My wallet contained all of my money, plus a pair of tickets to each of the three sold-out shows. I freaked out! What was I going to do now?

A hippie I met on the bus let me stay at his place that night, and the next morning, December 29th, he drove me to the corner of Post and Steiner Streets, home of Winterland.

It was a rainy, dreary morning and here I was standing outside the venue with no tickets and no money. Not only did I lose my own tickets but my friend Joel’s as well. Fortunately I still had an ounce of Thai sticks that I had carried cross-country, and selling a few sticks gained me some cash.

winterland

When Joel arrived, I gave him the bad news about our predicament, and he wasn’t very happy about it, to say the least. We decided to take a cab to Winterland Productions’ offices downtown, since that was where the tickets had been mailed from. I remembered the name of the woman who had originally helped me get them — Gloria Pulido — and asked for her when we got to the offices. She helped out again by selling Joel and me new sets of tickets to the three sold-out shows.

The year 1977 was a great one for the band, and they closed it out in style with three fantastic shows at Winterland. The first night, December 29th, is one of my favorite shows, and it was released on CD as Dick’s Picks, Volume 10.

Sadly, Winterland is no more, and condos now occupy the corner of Post and Steiner Streets.

— From Live Dead: The Grateful Dead Photographed by Bob Minkin

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